Kayak for Conservation

An enlightening new series of tours from Pond and Beyond
Mon, 06/09/2014 - 1:45pm

The Great Salt Pond is Corrie Heinz’s home away from home. As the owner/operator of Pond and Beyond Kayak, she’s out on the pond whenever the weather allows, so she knows the ins and the outs of the place and all the ecosystems and subcultures it holds. She grew up out here, went to school here, so her knowledge of all island life, be it plant or animal — including human — runs deep as well. The tours she leads are, then, always fun and informative. But this year she’s offering something a step beyond: a series of special Conservation Tours with guest experts, that will delve deeper into the workings of this multiple use harbor, looking at the balance needed to ensure, encourage, and provide both an optimal habitat for wildlife and a recreation zone for water activities and camps, all the while maintaining a superior water quality.  Here’s what Corrie had to say about this latest endeavor:

This is my seventh season owning and operating Pond and Beyond Kayak. Don Raffety, who owned the old Orvis store out here, offered this small portion of his business to me when he decided to move to the mainland for good.  He had joined me on a full moon paddle I offered through the Committee for the Great Salt Pond (CGSP). At the time, although I had kayaked a bit, I certainly didn’t consider myself a kayaker. Still, I thought I could make this into a great business.  And I have. 

I started with four boats and a less-than-part-time schedule; now I have about 40 single and tandems boats. I offer rentals, but my passion is leading tours for all ages and abilities. And, though I am on the water everyday educating about the Great Salt Pond, I felt it was important for me to get back to my ‘pre-business,’ conservation roots.

While studying environmental management at URI — way back into the 90s — I interned at The Nature Conservancy.  I didn’t know it at the time, but that experience provided me with the foundation for creating my own nature tours. Following graduation I received a coastal fellowship from URI and worked at the Galilee Bird Sanctuary (off the Galilee Escape Road) as a research assistant for three years. I returned to the island in 2002 and soon thereafter took a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the caretaker and educational outreach/biological technician for the Beane Point land, a 21-acre upland parcel at the mouth of the Great Salt Pond that’s part of a national wildlife refuge and home to all manner of shore birds. I suppose I’m thinking about returning to conservation roots in part because this summer I find myself once again caretaking out on Beane Point.

 Back in 2002, I joined a few boards including the CGSP, Block Island Conservancy (BIC), and the Conservation Commission. In 2008 I was recognized for my efforts in conservation with the Bayberry Wreath Award. [Praising her efforts to protect the Great Salt Pond even then, Peter Wood wrote of her selection for the award: “It is because a young mother with enduring island ties, a perspective widened by travel, and a passion for nature, has been willing to step up and lead the good fight to preserve the island’s maritime jewel that the Times is proud and delighted to recognize her effort.”] 

I have not been directly involved in non-profit work in the last six years and I miss it.  I want to give back to this body of water that gives so much to me. I guess I am trying to get islanders, summer residents, cottagers, and longtime visitors alike involved and excited. So many people have never paddled on the pond and each time I take someone out for the first time they are absolutely blown away by the beauty, by the water clarity, by the serenity of it all. I was reminded of this recently when it happened with, of all people, my mom Gail Heinz!

So I called on friends and former colleagues at The Nature Conservancy, the CGSP, and the Historical Society and asked if they’d help me create some educational conservancy programs by kayak. These people are passionate, dedicated, determined — of course they said yes! The result is an introductory series for this summer that promises to be in-depth and hands-on and I hope will inspire people to want to protect and enhance this valuable resource.

A little about each of the tours:

I personally am most excited about Pam Gasner presenting the history of Native Americans and the Great Salt Pond. It will lead off the series and offer a glimpse into the past, as well as a reminder of how the pond has provided a home, a habitat, and a recreation zone for thousands of years. This tour will leave from Andy’s Way at high tide because that is the only time we can access the Native American village site Pam will take us to (a protected site only accessible with certain officials from the Historical Society). The tour is half by sea and half by land, and all is suitable for beginner kayakers and hikers. We will do the heavy kayak lifting to Andy’s Way, so you can get to a typically difficult-to-access site the easy way!

Chris Littlefield, Director of Block Island & Marine Projects for The Nature Conservancy, is a true brain trust of knowledge about the pond and the island. He says his favorite place to be is on the water, where he will lead the tours for the Nature Conservancy, talking about the ecological benefits of conservation areas for water quality, and how to protect, restore, and sustain ecosystem health. Chris also will share information with us about his own business venture of oyster farming and sustainability. 

Sven Risom and Kevin Hoyt are our kayaker representatives from the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, a volunteer organization. Risom, the committee’s president promises an exciting, unique tour of the inner and outer ponds, in which we will stop to look at and evaluate native plant species and discuss good and bad buffers. We will do some water quality testing and consider the issues of mowing and clearing and what it means to put paths right up to the edge of the pond at places like Mosquito Beach, Beane Point, and Andy’s Way. We’ll also paddle up to the Solviken property and get an inside look at the plans for that beloved piece of land between pond and ocean.

Pond and Beyond Kayak
Summer Conservation

Series 2014

 (Partners:  The Nature Conservancy, the Committee for the Great Salt Pond, and the Block Island Historical Society)

 Thursday, June 26: 8:30-1030 am.  

The Block Island Historical Society

Native American History around the Great Salt Pond with Pam Gasner


Monday, July 7: 8:30- 10:30 am

 The Committee for the Great Salt Pond

Ecological benefits of Conservation Areas for Water Quality 


Monday July 14: 7:00 am

 Pond and Beyond | ConserFest| Diamond Blue



Monday, July 21: 8:30-1030 am

The Nature Conservancy

Ecosystem health: protecting the watershed and restoring habitat and water

 quality in the pond with Chris Littlefield


Friday July 25: 3:00-5:00 pm

The Committee for the Great Salt Pond

Buffers, backyards, runoff and your watershed 


Monday July 28: 8:30 -1030 am

The Nature Conservancy

Around the Pond – paddle to the protected areas, understand the basics of the

Great Salt Pond with Chris Littlefield


Monday August 4:  8:30- 10:30 am

The Nature Conservancy

Something for everyone:  What Great Salt Pond provides and how we sustain it.

with Chris Littlefield


Monday August 11: 8:30 -1030 am

The Committee for the Great Salt Pond

The Great Salt Pond – our mission, our accomplishments, and our goals.

With Sven Risom and Kevin Hoyt


From The Block Island Summer Times, June 2014