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4:49 pm
Mon September 3, 2012

One Square Mile: A ferry ride to Block Island

PROVIDENCE, RI – As part of our `One Square Mile' reports on Block Island RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay takes a break from the political circuit to take us for a ferry ride to Block Island.

Block Island s just nine miles from the Rhode Island mainland but a world away. Home in January to just 1,000 hardy souls, in summer the pork-chop shaped island's population bulges to ten times that.

Once a farming and fishing community, Block Island is known as a warm-weather getaway for summer surf and sun worshippers. It's not the only one off the coast of southeastern New England. Ferries disgorge Ray-Ban wearing vacationers to Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Fisher's Island. And there are no shortage of tourists flocking to Newport and the Hamptons.

Yet Block Island is different than all those other summer magnets. Block has none of the artsy preciousness of the Vineyard, with its denizens of the Washington. D.C. cocktail circuit and its hordes of gawkers vying for a glimpse of Clintons or Obamas. Or Nantucket, summer home to the corporate jet set and media poobahs. If you really need to see Chris Matthews broadcasting live on vacation, well Nantucket is your venue. Block Island isn't.

If your idea of a summer respite is bending elbows with the gin-and-tonic swells that stare out from the society pages of the New York Times or the boldface type of the New York Post, try Newport or the Hamptons. If you need to be surrounded by money that originated on the Mayflower, catch the boat to Fishers, summer bastion of DuPonts and bankers. For followers of the Boston Globe's bold-faced gossip pages, there is forever the Vineyard.

Summer vacation means weekday morning tee-times and lush fairways for our golfing brethren. Newport, the Vineyard, Fishers and Nantucket all feature world-class golf courses. Block Island has none.

For some vacationers, getting away from it all means a rendezvous with how their betters live, or once lived. Newport has its mansions, Nantucket has its whaling heritage, its modern-day celebrity chefs and super-rich. The Vineyard has the infamous bridge where a woman died when Ted Kennedy's car plunged into the ocean. Fishers is so private that you better be somebody or know somebody to travel more than a few hundreds off the ferry dock. Buying dinner on the Hamptons means taking out a second mortgage. Block has none of that stuff. You don't need a blazer and Vineyard Vines tie to be seated for dinner.

Block Island is place of spectacular beauty and lovely beaches - all of them public. Leave your golf bag home but bring your fishing gear. Leave the BMW in the driveway and bring your bicycle and bird-watching field glasses. Forget the crackberrys and IPhones; a beach bag loaded down with books is the perfect Block companion. If your idea of the perfect vacation is an Adirondack chair overlooking the ocean, listening to the metronymic crash of surf, Block Island truly does await you.

Our goal this week is to bring to you a Block Island many day trippers don't know exists. We will explore the history of a place that was a sleepy farming-and-fishing community described by the Providence Journal 50 years ago as `` a place where you can drop out of today and go back to the late 1800s or early 1900s.''

Block prospered during the rum-running era of Prohibition, but after cocktails became legal the local economy reverted to earlier roots. It was never a wealthy venue, but as the energy crisis of the 1970s kept northeastern tourists seeking a summer playground close to home, Block Island boomed with fancy summer palaces and yachts. We'll explain how a home-grown conservation effort preserved the island's beauty and environment and kept this special place from being overrun with, condos, honky-tonk resorts and five-star hotels. We'll bring you to the smallest school district in Rhode Island, where all the kids can ride the same bus. We'll profile the island's health care system and tell you about tick-born diseases that have live miserable for islanders.

And we'll explore how Block Island deals with high energy costs and the prospect of a new electricity source driven by the renewable resource of wind. So if you can't make it to Point Judith for the ferry, keep you dial here this week on Morning Edition. We take you to Block Island.

Scott MacKay's commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45. You can also follow his political analysis and reporting at our `On Politics' blog at RIPR.org.

Take a listen to the rest of One Square Mile: Block Island here

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you. news@ripr.org