Changing RI, One Hike at a Time

A story of how enthusiasm travels farther in Rhode Island than it normally does and about the man who opened my eyes to one of the gifts of living in a small state. 

Ernie Germani greeted me with a warm smile and a firm handshake. When we made our way to the shade of the gazebo at Hunts Mills, he pushed his wrap-around sunglasses to his forehead and gave me a smile. When I asked him to tell me his story, he didn’t skip a beat.

“My name is Ernie Germani”, he said, “I’m from East Providence, lived here my whole life (except for a disappointing six months in Pawtucket)… I’m the Vice Chair of the East Providence Conservation Commission, and I’m a land surveyor by day and a hiker by… well, what’s left of the daylight.”

As he said this, he leaned forward and handed me a dark brown business card:

 

“I also run the blog Trails and Walks in Rhode Island”, he explained. “You can find us at that website”. I looked at it briefly – no name, no contact information, no fancy images – just a URL on the front and a QR code on the back. And with that, only two minutes into our interview, two things were abundantly clear about Ernie Germani.

“I Missed This”

First, it was clear that Ernie was doing what he loves. He told me how he got involved in hiking in the first place:

“When I was maybe 16 or 17, I used to spend a lot of time outside. I would take weekend trips to New Hampshire and just spend the whole day out in the woods. But as I got older, I did that less and less. In 2012, I was planning a trip up to Montreal and there was a freak snowstorm the day I planned to leave, so I left a day early. I drove up to New Hampshire and stopped at Franconia Notch, just to walk around a little bit. Pretty soon, I realized two things: first, I missed this. Second, I was way out of shape. So, I did something I never do – I made a New Year’s Resolution for 2013 to start hiking again.”

That New Year’s Resolution translated into 450 trails hiked since 2013, or about two different hikes a week, every week, for the last four years. It’s safe to say that Ernie Germani loves hiking.

Franconia Notch

“The Blogging Type”

As we kept talking, it also became clear that Ernie wasn’t keeping his passion for hiking to himself: he was actively sharing that passion with others.

Mostly, he shares his hiking experiences through his blog (which is linked at the bottom of this post). “As you might have guessed”, he joked at one point, “I’m not the ‘blogging’ type”. But the 500,000 views his website has accumulated since March 31st, 2013 and its being awarded a “Best Of” award by Rhode Island Monthly says something to the contrary.

“The blog took about six months to take off”, he explained. “But once it had been up there for a while, we started noticing more and more traffic. We get messages every now and then from people who go to the site, too.”

Ernie told me that the blog was originally designed to fill a hole in hiking resources. “As I started to get more involved in hiking, I would look at books that outlined all the different trails in the state, but it was hard to find one resource that had everything. So I started keeping track of where I had hiked in Excel files until one of my friends suggested to me that I put all of this together.”

Now, you can go on his website and find a description of every trail Ernie’s hiked. “I never say anything bad about a trail”, he told me. “I just don’t feel like it’s my place to say ‘oh man, that trail sucked!’ even if it does suck. You never know whose responsibility a trail is. And besides, somebody might read what I wrote and say ‘well hey, I really liked that trail!’. I tell the readers what I found and let them see it for themselves.”

Nehantic Trail - Rhododentron Sanctuary Trail.
Nehantic Trail, stretching from CT to RI

“It All Comes Down to…”

But as I pieced together Ernie’s story, I realized that his experiences spoke to more than his commitment to the natural beauty of Rhode Island. His experience with hiking, blogging, and service also speak to the opportunity, especially powerful in Rhode Island, to make a wide-ranging impact by following a passion and sharing it with others.

It was Ernie’s love for hiking that led him to join the East Providence Conservation Commission, which he describes as a “close-knit group of volunteers that work well together”. It was his friend at the East Providence Conservation Commission that encouraged him to start a blog. And it was his blog that gathered others across the state and country to the trails. And, in the close, personal atmosphere of Rhode Island, each piece of the puzzle works with the others to create something truly meaningful.

When I asked Ernie which part of what he does was most rewarding, he paused.

“I guess I’d have to say getting people out here – but for me, it all comes down to hiking.”

So, check out Trails and Walks in Rhode Island if you want a one-stop-shop for all the best hiking trails in the state. Sit in on a meeting of your local conservation commission if you want to get involved with preserving the natural beauty of the state in your own town or city. And, if you see Ernie on one of the trails, remember that all of it started with his passion – that for him, “it all comes down to hiking”.

Click this link to take you to Ernie’s website: https://trailsandwalksri.wordpress.com/