The idea for the trip was hatched three years ago by Chuck Horbert, 46, of North Scituate.
The question was, “Can I get across Rhode Island by paddle?”
The answer was yes, with some adjustments for portages resulting from dams and other obstacles. He was joined by Bill Luther, 62, Jim Cole, 67, and Dave Smith, 57, on the eight-day, seven-night “Paddle Across Rhode Island,” a 101-mile journey using a mostly inland water route from the Massachusetts border in North Smithfield all the way to Westerly and Stonington, Conn. The trip wrapped up Sunday.
Such a trek had not been previously attempted. Horbert, a Rhode Island Blueways Alliance board member, led the way.
They went north to south, and had already scoped out camping sites – with permission of cities and towns and private owners when needed – for their evenings. In all, they traveled by canoe, kayak and foot through 17 of the state’s 39 cities and towns, and used canoe carts throughout streets to reach the next point of entry.
For the four paddlers, it was a personal challenge to achieve what has never been done before. Cole is an American Canoe Association certified canoe instructor and author of “Paddling Connecticut and Rhode Island,” a paddling guidebook published in 2009. Luther has over 30 years of canoeing experience, visiting rivers and lakes all over the country.
“We worked to reconnect communities by the rivers throughout the cities and towns in Rhode Island,” said Horbert.
Starting on the Blackstone River, the men traveled through the Blackstone Canal to the Seekonk River and then the Providence River.
On July 7, due to a windy bay, they diverted to Allens Avenue and walked to the Pawtuxet River entry point. While their gear was carried by a vehicle for the majority of that nine-mile portage, the men did transport their canoes using pull carts.
“It was a bit easier than we thought going from Rhodes on the Pawtuxet to Pontiac, and it is such a beautiful stretch of river,” said Horbert.
On July 8, they stopped at the Pontiac Avenue and Knight Street canoe launch near the Warwick line in Cranston, which opened in 2009, to rest before heading further upstream. Their canoes and one kayak were full of gear, and they were well into the trip at that point.
From there, the travelers continued on to the Flat River Reservoir in Coventry and then the Big River. After another portage to Arcadia Management Area, they took the Wood River to the Pawcatuck River, which led to the end point at Little Narragansett Bay in Stonington.
Along the way they saw bald eagles, snapping turtles, muskrats, heron and even osprey. They kept a record of their journey, which will provide a template for others.
Each day they began at approximately 8 a.m. and continued until 6 p.m., when they set up camp.
Horbert and his fellow travelers used this trip to advocate for improved river access. Along the way, they provided educational and special events with help from fellow members at the Rhode Island Blueways Alliance. They used the trip to highlight many new paddler access projects that various municipalities and watershed groups have accomplished.
“The Pawtuxet River Authority and Watershed Council was very pleased to support this unique and historic paddle event across Rhode Island, and we are grateful to the paddlers for helping to call attention to this wonderful river that flows through Cranston and Warwick, an under-appreciated urban gem,” said Rita L. Holahan of the authority, who serves as treasurer and Cranston’s representative on the board.
The Pawtuxet River Authority and Watershed Council is the official steward of the Pawtuxet River and its watershed, and a member of the Rhode Island Rivers Council. Since sponsoring the removal of the first dam on the river in Pawtuxet Village, the organization continues its work to improve river access for the public while also restoring water quality and wildlife populations.
All four paddlers have agreed to come back to talk about their entire weeklong journey and to lead a fall foliage paddle with the PRAWC on the weekend of Oct. 18. The event will be open to the public, and will be held at the Pontiac canoe launch.