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Venturing around a place that combines rugged natural beauty with remnants of local history can revitalize you. It’s even better when you discover surprises that aren’t listed in the local brochures.

Rockport’s “Haul About” Point

by Perry Persoff

My first Rockport experiences were out of Bearskin Neck. For my next one, I decided to turn toward the less populous regions of Cape Ann. It was a cloudy night that I drove up Route 127 in search of Halibut Point State Park. I found the parking lot almost by accident. The clouds had yielded to a clear sky of incredible constellations. It was a nearly pitch-dark night, and all I could see was the crown of the entrance in shadow. It looked like the opening to a forbidden cave. I had to return the next day to explore.

Wooded areas tend to stimulate my imagination. When starting on that entrance path, you can’t see where it leads. Hansel and Gretel came to mind as the nearly enclosed trail drew me in. On a sunny summer day beneath a canopy of green, the path is beautiful. On a gray spring day under a cover of gnarled branches, it looks more mysterious. Either way, it is inviting. After a straight run the trail curves a little to the left before you finally see a clearing ahead with a sign announcing, “CAUTION QUARRY.”

Halibut Point is made of granite. And when you walk out of that entrance path, you step back to the days of the Cape Ann granite industry. From the early 1800s to 1929, quarrying granite was a major business that briefly rivaled commercial fishing as the region’s most prominent industry. The Babson Farm Quarry played a significant role.

Stroll a few yards to the left of that caution sign, and you’ll be looking straight at the quarry, with the Atlantic Ocean outstretched beyond. After the quarry ceased operations in 1929, its pit filled with rain and underground spring water to form a steep-banked pond (no swimming allowed).

As I walked the quarry’s perimeter, the pond showed mirror views of its surroundings: vegetation and streaks of white mineral deposit on the rocks. The Visitor Center’s 60-foot tower seemed to go straight through the rocks and into the water. The reflected images shimmered back in beautiful symmetry.

The park’s most dramatic views are from the Overlook, a high outcropping to the right of the quarry, with trails leading both to the top and down to the point. On a clear day, you can see from Crane Beach in Ipswich to Maine’s Mount Agamenticus. Don’t worry; park displays will help you identify them.

I had always figured that Halibut Point was named after Rockport’s commercial fishing heritage, but that’s not it. It’s the northernmost tip of Cape Ann, the point where sailing ships would tack around the Cape or, “haul about” in sailing lingo. Say “haul about” five times fast and it makes sense. You can imagine the ships giving the point its name as you watch from the Overlook.

Yes, the Overlook has awesome views. But if you really need some solitude with nature, explore a side trail. After checking the Overlook, I returned to the quarry perimeter trail. I then crossed a gravel path and followed the slope to a marked trail alongside the water. After finding a seat on one of the many rocks, I chomped into a sandwich and looked out on the ocean thirty feet away. A group of shorebirds were catching waves. “The Surfducks,” I dubbed them. The scene seemed to epitomize the phrase “Serenity Now.” The ocean always manages to have that therapeutic effect, and I’ll never really know what it is.

The late Warren Zevon once sang about “Splendid Isolation.” I had found my spot. I snapped a picture of the Surfducks and headed back up towards the quarry. What a nice way to end my day at Halibut Point.

Or was it over? At the top of the slope I caught another side trail, the Back 40 Loop. Higher trees lend it some shelter from the wind, giving it a different feel from the rest of the park. When I came out of the loop I noticed something intriguing between its two entrances. Looking like an artifact out of “Lord of the Rings,” a four-foot-tall granite statue stands there. Its facial features resemble those of a bearded ancient Chinese philosopher. Gandalf meets Confucius? There is no adjacent park display to explain the statue. I have done Web searches. I have asked friends more familiar with the park. They have no answer. So far as I know, the statue is a mystery.

And doesn’t that make it more exciting? If you know the answer, please don’t tell me.

Public Pathways on Private Properties

by Robert Pushkar

Arguably the most beautiful coastal spot on the North Shore is Rockport: naturally scenic, abundantly quaint, and vitally aware of its own graces. Had Norman Rockwell, that visual chronicler of Americana, been a seascape artist, surely he would have found Rockport’s humble aspect and weather-hewn charms a suitable subject.

In prehistoric times, volcanoes and glaciers were the artists here, aided by the great, gnawing motion of the restless sea. In more recent times, public access to the beauty these artists created has been ensured by Rockport’s Rights of Way Committee.

The inscription on a private memorial bench at the Headlands announces it succinctly: “True beauty can be enjoyed by all, rich or poor; it is free.”

Barbara Goll, chair of the Rights of Way Committee, formed by the town meeting in the 1980s, says, “We are so fortunate to have an abundance of natural recreational resources available to the public. We are also fortunate to live in a town where people are committed to preserving these resources.”

Seventeenth-century English law for the New England colonies established some of the pathways to permit access for “fishing, fowling, and navigation.” Included today are historic boat landings, beaches, and conservation land. Some paths cross private land; only through tradition and legal interpretation is the public granted the right to “pass and repass.” Straying from the designated pathways is prohibited, as are swimming and picnicking.

To look is human; to stare at the endless sea approaches the divine. Most of Rockport’s pathways are easily accessible to walkers, and many, to baby strollers and wheelchairs as well. Getting to the pathways, however, requires civic awareness and consideration. Cars must be parked, and some restrictions apply to nonresidents.

Three pathways, the Atlantic Path, the Headlands, and the Garden Path provide wonderful communion with land and sea.

The Atlantic Path begins just north of Pigeon Cove near the Ralph Waldo Emerson Inn. A small sign on a granite pole welcomes pedestrians. Since you cross private property through homeowners’ yards, “Try not to abuse it,” says the sign. “Cross at your own risk.” Footing can be challenging, and sometimes dangerous. As an alternative, seven public pathways off Phillips Avenue lead to the same Atlantic Path.

Closer to the heart of town, the Headlands present an unrivaled vista of the sea and of Bearskin Neck, including a postcard-perfect view of Motif No. 1.

To find the Old Garden Path, follow the pathway south along Ocean Avenue, which becomes Old Garden Avenue. Oceanside, there are three pathways to the shore. But the most accessible, with spectacular gazing points, awaits through a tiny, tree-lined pathway at Dean Road, which leads to the Old Garden Path. Again, watch your step.

Other pathways, landings, and beaches await adventurers in search of natural beauty. The Rockport Guide to Public Paths & Town Landings, published by the Rockport Rights of Way Committee, is available at Toad Hall Bookstore on Main Street, or through the Friends of the Rockport Rights of Way Committee. The guidebook contains detailed summaries, maps, and other information.