Cliff Vanover has long been interested in the natural world. For decades, he has enjoyed hiking in and near Rhode Island, especially where he can observe evidence of glacial geology. As the proprietor of Great Swamp Press, based in southern RI, he writes and publishes maps and guides for walking and biking that are regarded as the definitive products of their kind for the areas covered. Despite the popularity of smart device apps, he said, often people want a hand-curated paper map.
One of his most popular, he said, is for the trails and footpaths of the Arcadia Wildlife Management Area. “My motivation to make the map was for myself so I would know where I was going. My first map was the Arcadia.” For traditional woodland hiking, he recommends Arcadia in central RI or Pachaug in nearby Connecticut, for which he also publishes a guide.
In summer before the weather cools, however, he said he avoids the woods due to bees and ticks, preferring coastal and beach hikes.
Vanover made a custom map for Motif readers for a short 4- to 5-mile hike in South Kingstown. “This is fun and takes a little carpooling,” he said. “This is at least a two-person hike,” so you first station one car at East Matunuck where the walk ends and drive another car to Green Hill Beach where the walk begins. “You start walking east on the beach,” he said. “Then you get onto Moonstone Beach, which is spectacular, but they want you to stay as close to the water as possible because by then the [endangered] plovers are gone but you really should not explore the coastal ponds there, you should just stay on the beach. And then you go to South Kingstown Town Beach and you have to get out there, you get onto the roads, and you go through Matunuck and then you end up at at East Matunuck State Beach. And there you are.”
He has several different publications for Aquidneck Island, including for Cliff Walk and Bellevue Avenue, for Newport Harbor Walk, for The Point: Map and Guide to Colonial and Early American Houses, and for Biking Aquidneck Island and Guide to Coastal Access. “As for Newport, if they wanted to do the Cliff Walk as a loop hike, they can start on Memorial Boulevard and Bellevue Ave, walk to the east toward First Beach and then get onto the trail, walk south and walk to the end down at Bailey’s Beach, and then walk back on Spring Street or Bellevue back to their car. That’s an eight-mile hike. And you can’t beat that for ocean landscapes.”
At the high end of difficulty, Vanover cited the “North-South Trail that goes from the Blue Shutters Beach in Charlestown to the Massachusetts border at buck Hill. It’s 75 miles. It’s quite a trail. But you can’t camp on it, there’s no place, so really pretty much have to do it in pieces.” His guide for that, unfortunately, is out of print although he is working on a forthcoming second edition.
Vanover recommended MeetUp.com for anyone interested in exploring RI with a group, especially the Rhode Island Hiking Club and the Narragansett Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. While the Hiking Club describes itself as offering “rather challenging hikes often through rough terrain,” their activities include “a variety of hikes from the beginner to the more experienced” and are rated on a scale of difficulty. Vanover said, “They have hikes for people who are getting into it or back into hiking,” usually “hikes more in the range of 5 to 8 miles.” He specifically noted their Wolf Hill Trail Hikes, which they describe as “Level 2 Moderate Difficulty” running “4 miles more or less” lasting “about two hours.”
Great Swamp Press publications are available for mail order directly on the web at GreatSwampPress.com and are stocked by retailers including the Map Center in Pawtucket, Ure Outfitters in Hope Valley, and REI in Cranston. Vanover recommends telephoning retailers in advance to confirm the guide wanted is in stock.