Old traditions, new spark

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 7:00pm

As a summer traveler and vacationer up from the heat of South Florida, I have made my way to Block Island for a staycation on the West Side for the next month. A local to the area born and raised in Portsmouth, R.I., I had never come to Block Island for an extended stay and my timing could not have been better. When I arrived on the island the ferry was full of excited families and locals who told me, “Of course we’re headed to the Block. They do the fourth better than anyone. It reminds us of a simpler time.”

America is turning 243 years old this year and Block Island had plenty of fun activities for all to enjoy. The annual Steak Fry held at the fire department and family fun events ranging from maritime touch tanks and educational events in New Harbor, to music concerts and all the rest. The hotels were at full capacity and the tradition of the “Holiday Raft Up” that sees boaters from all over the world, in full holiday swing.

Staying true to tradition, Block Island celebrated with a magnificent fireworks display on Wednesday, July 3. With a full harbor of lit sailing masts and a dingy dock that would make anyone want to explore, what better way to start an island celebration than on the water. I found myself at Ocean Adventures in New Harbor, located right behind Smitty’s Ice Cream Shop. Business owner to both companies, Jeffrey Smith has lived on the island for nearly 30 years. Smith said “locals and visitors come back to create memories on this island because we appreciate and love the history as well as the families that visit every year. It becomes tradition.” He goes on to say, “The Fourth of July is a weekend that is celebrated by boaters, families and friends all looking for a getaway adventure that still feels like home.”

At sunset our group set sail on our paddle boards on the salt ponds behind Payne's Dock to a tangerine sky. The fireworks began at 9:15 p.m., lasting 30 minutes and ended in a spectacular finale light show. When the color from the rockets’ red glare had ended the horns, claps, and cheers from my fellow Americans could be heard echoing in the sound of the marina, beaches, and shoreline. Reminding me of those in our military both past and present and the sacrifices they have made, because freedom does not come free.

The local bird life on Block Island is tremendous and the gulls, roosters, and robins on the west side rolling hills were up and ready for the Fourth of July. After a coffee on my deck, I made my way down to the starting line at The Oar. The parade began at 11 a.m. and lasted about 40 minutes ending in Old Harbor where the Fourth of July pop-up rafting community in Old Harbor was waiting. The heat of the July summer day did not stop the crowds from showing their support for the parade, which had a theme of favorite television shows. Cars, flatbeds, and army Jeeps supporting local business decorated and occupied by residents and locals. Starting out the parade route were Rita Draper and Kimberly Ward, who led the procession that was followed up by marching bands playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Kids waved their flags, sat with a cold Del’s lemonade, and people talked of parades past.

The folks on the ferry were right. This was a true slice of Americana.