May 2015: Clay Head Nature Trail

Block Island, Rhode Island

David and Elise Lapham first visited Block Island for a vacation in 1951. Over the next decade they kept returning and finally decided to buy five acres on the island’s north end. While looking at a small parcel of land across the road they ended up instead with almost 200 acres atop the clay bluffs gouged out by retreating glaciers some 10,000 years prior. David Lapham discovered he had an affinity for trail building. He picked up a chopping machine and began clawing out brush and thickets in every direction. One day he set out to measure his walking paths and found out he had nine miles of trails on his property. With his trail system complete the Lathams began decorating the footpaths. Over the years more than 7,000 daffodil bulbs went into the ground. Thousands of trees were planted. From the beginning, the Laphams wanted to share their land with its spectacular setting. When they decided to leave the property in the stewardship of the Nature Conservancy it was with the proviso that the public would have access to the trails.  

David Lapham’s trail system has come to be known as “The Maze.” These grassy trails are unmarked but well-maintained and a delight for your dog. You can pop out at a stone wall or one of the best views on the East Coast. The Clay Head Nature Trail runs for about one mile along the top of the 70-foot bluffs. It is easy going but will be one of the longest miles you’ve ever taken your dog on when you factor in the frequent stops for watching the crashing waves or charting the progress of a passing vessel. 

Setting out from the northern terminus of the Clay Head Trail you can reach the North Light with your dog after about a 20-minute walk on a sandy beach. Dangerous shoals and frequent fog banks made the passage around Block Island a tricky affair for mariners. Between 1819 and 1839 alone fifty-nine ships wrecked on or near Block Island. The current granite lighthouse dates to 1868 and was the fourth light to be built here. The first three, dating to 1829, fell victim to shifting sands, faulty design and voracious waves.

From Old Harbor, head north on the Corn Neck Road (the only road to the north end of Block Island) to the trailhead at a post marker about 2.5 miles from town.