ENE Blog: Digging Into Warwick

By Tom Richardson
Angie and Luke Murray paddle the Pawtuxet River.

Last week we were back in Warwick, Rhode Island, to film some more outdoor adventures in this very surprising city. We kicked things off with a morning paddling excursion on the Pawtuxet River with local kayakers Luke and Angela Murray. After launching at the Rhodes On The Pawtuxet Park and put-in area on the Cranston side of the river, we first headed upstream. As Luke explained, paddlers can spend a full day on the Pawtuxet traveling in this direction. The four-mile stretch takes you through shady, deeply wooded sections, past a couple of parks, under Interstate 95, and through some heavily developed parts of the city, before ending at the dam at Pontiac Mills.

The lower, freshwater portion of the Pawtuxet offers plenty of natural beauty.

Given our limited time, we turned around after a few hundred yards and paddled downstream to the set of rapids just above Pawtuxet Cove, where a former dam was removed in 2011. The strength of these rapids varies with water flow and tide level, and should not be attempted unless you have whitewater paddling experience.

Never one to follow my own advice, I ran the rapids, which nearly proved disastrous when my paddle snagged an overarching tree limb and I ended up veering into a bridge abutment! Angie and Luke, on the other hand, managed the run without a hitch, and we all made it safely into peaceful Pawtuxet Cove. This portion of the lower Pawtuxet is tidal, home to several marinas and an entirely different environment. It’s also the setting for the annual Gaspee Days celebration, which commemorates the 1772 burning of a British customs schooner, one of the first violent acts of colonial rebellion in America.

Park ranger Scott Landry points to a remnant of the former Goddard estate.

The next stop for cameraman Halsey Fulton and me was Goddard Memorial State Park, on the opposite end of Warwick. The 490-acre park occupies a peninsula on Greenwich Bay known as Potowomut Neck. We got a tour of the sprawling park and its amenities with ranger Scott Landry, who drove us around in one of the utility vehicles. We visited the popular beach and bathhouse, the nine-hole golf course, the equestrian stables and bridle trails, the public launch ramp, and a few of the many day-use picnic sites scattered around the park. It’s quite an operation, and a valuable public resource for many types of outdoor enthusiasts in the area. Kudos to Landry and his fellow park employees for the hard work that goes into maintaining the grounds and facilities.

Beachgoers enjoy the water at Goddard Memorial State Park.

After spending several hours at Goddard, Halsey and I drove back north to another state park: Rocky Point, the former home of a popular amusement park that operated from 1847 to 1995. After many years of disuse, the 123 acres of land, which borders a beautiful stretch of upper Narragansett Bay, was jointly purchased by the city and the state for use as a public park, and now features a long fishing pier and miles of walking and biking paths.

The public boat launch facility at Goddard Memorial State Park.

It was in this setting that we met up with local legend Jody King, a commercial quahog (aka, littleneck or hardshell clam) harvester from Warwick who learned to rake bivalves on these very shores. At 63, the affable and energetic King has spent over 40 years raking a living from the waters of Narragansett Bay, and he does it year-round, in every kind of weather. He’s also a natural teacher, frequently conducting instructional classes on shellfishing for the RI Dept. of Environmental Management.

Jody King shows off the skills acquired during his long career as a quahog harvester.

Jody walked us through the basics of harvesting quahogs using a rake. When I expressed surprise over the stony beach he had chosen for our lesson, Jody explained that quahogs can thrive in just about any type of bottom substrate—which he soon proved by raking up several legal-sized clams in a few minutes work.

Quahogger Jody King displays the fruits of a few minutes of raking the bottom of Narragansett Bay.

While recent rains had forced the closure of the shellfish beds around Rocky Point, Jody had brought some quahogs from an open section of the bay so that he could prepare them for us using a simple recipe handed down from his father, a successful chef who worked in a well-known Providence restaurant. Jody placed roughly two dozen clams in a large pot without water, turned up the heat full blast, and added a packet of spices and olive oil. In about 20 minutes, the clams had opened and released the water contained in their shells, creating an aromatic broth.

Steamed quahogs, fresh from the bay!

And that’s how we wrapped up our Warwick shoot as the sun dipped below the former amusement park tower: feasting on freshly harvested clams from Narragansett Bay, prepared by a local shellfisherman and consumed with freshly baked Italian bread from local bakery Antonio’s. We couldn’t have scripted a more appropriate ending!