The Famous Floats of Block Island
Earlier this summer I spent a Saturday on the best adventure with my sister Elaine on Block Island in New Shoreham, RI. No, we did not do a pub crawl or spend the day soaking up the sun on one of the great beaches found on The Block. We spent most of the day participating in the best adult treasure hunt ever – we searched for glass floats hidden all over the Greenway Trails and beaches on the island. Like many Rhode Islanders, I have been a frequent visitor to Block Island but, never have I had so much fun as the first time I visited the island as a glass float seeker. Right about now you are asking yourself…what is a glass float and why are they hidden all over the island?
These glass float treasures are the creation of Eben Horton. He is a glass blower with a studio in South Kingstown, RI called The Glass Station. The hand-blown glass pieces in his studio are gorgeous and a trip to the studio is time well spent.
The Glass Float Project
The concept of The Glass Float Project was conceived by Eben in 2011 and since then it has taken on a life of its own. The idea was to find a way to encourage visitors to The Block to enjoy the natural beauty and not just the food, drink and shopping.
“With help from a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, Eben created the first 150 floats, modeling them after the Japanese fishing net floats that occasionally break free from their nets and float up onto beaches worldwide. With permission from the Block Island town council, he began hiding them on the beaches and greenway trails that connect conserved parcels of land on the island.
The project has grown in scale and fame in the years since then. He and his wife, Jennifer Nauck, and the team at their studio, The Glass Station Studio and Gallery in Wakefield, RI, now make upwards of 550 floats every year. They are dated with the year and numbered between 1 and 550. The number 1 float is always something extra special, and the first few floats, the amount corresponding to the current year, are brightly colored. This year, 2023, the first 23 numbered floats will be colored, the rest will be clear glass.”
– Excerpt from The Glass Float Project”, The Glass Station Studio,
The floats are hidden from June to October but the hunting can continue beyond. There are a few basic rules for the hunters or “orbivores”:
- Floats are hidden on the beaches and Greenway Trails – never on private land.
- On the water they will be found above the high tide mark and never will be found in dunes or up the side of the bluffs
- The floats will be within a few feet of the trail that they are placed on.
- Property should be left undisturbed.
- Floats will never be found on the grounds of a school or cemetery.
- Hunters are requested to only keep one float per season.
- If you do locate a float, you are asked to register the number and location of the find. http://www.blockislandinfo.com/glass-float-project/
- Most important of all – enjoy your surroundings!!!
My Personal Quest for Float Glory
For me, the desire to find a glass float started a few summers ago with a chance conversation with some neighbors at our dock. We dock our boat at a small marina in Wakefield, RI and as most “dockers” do, we got to know our slip mates rather well. One of our neighbors heads over to Block Island most weekends and we got to chatting about what they like to do when they visit the island. Our friend explained that they used to spend their weekends doing what most visitors do (beach/drink/beach….repeat) until his wife learned about the “orbs” that are hidden on the island. Since she learned of this, she has become obsessed according to him. Now, their weekends are spent biking and hiking in search of the prize. He explained that her obsession was rewarded a few years ago when she found one of the much sought-after floats. I was intrigued to say the least and began my deep dive into this Block Island Not-So-Secret adventure.
Early this spring my sister and I began to strategize our hunt. The orbs for 2023 had started to be hidden on The Block and we were so excited to join the hundreds and hundreds of people who have been searching for these floats for the last 11 years. We spent some time doing a bit of research on the Greenway Trails and we thought that we had a good plan for our first hike. We would take our car over and park near the north side of the island and hike from there. Well, since the car idea was last minute we were on “standby” for taking our vehicle over and that did not happen. On to plan “B” – ferry over and we would each rent a moped to get us to the north side of the island. Nope, on to Plan “C” because I guess that I would be considered “moped challenged” and could not pass the required basic training. This happens when you run the instructor over. Now we would ride to the north side with me riding shotgun on the back of my sister’s moped.
Once the moped drama was over, we headed out to start our adventure with me riding shotgun. We had the necessary trail maps. And while the island is not difficult to navigate, two sisters giggling on a moped does not make for easy travels. After a few turns to avoid “no moped” areas, we were on our way to the north side of Block Island. We did a short hike out to The North Lighthouse checking in and under every piece of driftwood and structure that we passed. The beach at the lighthouse is so incredibly scenic with its rocky shore, fabulous views of the lighthouse and seals feeding in the surf. Once we pulled ourselves away from the shoreline, we headed to our next short hike location at the Hodge Family Wildlife Preserve. This trail provided easy walking and great views as we hiked along. We understood the rules of the “Glass Float Project” and kept to the trails – visually scanning the ground, stone walls and the trees that hung over various parts of the trail with unfortunately no luck–so no float glory.
Even though we did not locate our treasure on this particular trip, I think that we would both say that it was a success. Some laughs, some exercise, spectacular views and quality time that no one can take away.
No glass float hunting trip would be complete without a nice lunch to sit back and talk about the adventure. On this trip our hunt ended at “The Oar”. This spot provides awesome views of New Harbor as you enjoy your snack or beverage of choice. For us it was a round (or two) of frozen mudslides and a few orders of chicken tenders.
Getting There–Ferries, Planes and Boats
Visiting Block Island is easy, and most people arrive at the island via ferry service. The island has both regular ferry service (55 minutes) and high-speed service (30 minutes) leaving from Pt Judith, RI. For me, half the fun is enjoying the ride there so the slow ferry is just fine with me and a bit less expensive. Once on the ferry, you can pass the time away enjoying the views while enjoying a famous ferry Bloody Mary.
There is plenty of parking available in Pt. Judith or you can take your car on the ferry. Reservations are recommended for a car, but they do offer “standby” if you want to chance it. As I had mentioned, we tried the “standby” method and did not have any luck. For more information on ferry service to Block Island you can visit:
Most Block Island visitors depart from Pt Judith, but you can also catch ferries from Newport, RI, Connecticut and New York. These ferries are seasonal with more limited schedules.
Block Island does have an airport so you can also reach the island by plane. New England Airlines offers year-round service from their terminal in Westerly, RI. There are about 20 flights per day and the flight takes approximately 12 minutes. I have never flown to the island, but I bet that the views are amazing. For more information:
Block Island is a fabulous boating destination. The island has two harbors (Old Harbor and New Harbor) with a variety of dockage types available at each. There are a handful of private marinas as well as moorings and large anchorage fields that are controlled by the Harbormaster. The town run moorings are primarily “first come first serve” so reservations are not taken.
For more information on available dockage you can contact the Harbormaster at 401-466-3204 or on VHF Channel 12.
And Oh Yes…There Are Other Things To Do
While this blog was specifically focused on a search for glass floats, there are so many more things to do on the island.
Block Island has 17 miles of beaches – all of which are free to the public (Hooray for you Block Island!!) You can exit the ferry and walk to the beach or rent a bike or moped and explore the more isolated beaches deeper into the island. A map of the Island’s beaches:
FOOD AND DRINK
Dining and drinking on Block Island is an experience onto itself. There is everything available from sushi to frozen mudslides to homemade donuts. Dining can be as casual as a picnic table by the harbor or more high end served with sweeping views of the ocean. Whatever you are craving, you will be able to find it on this 3 by 7-mile island.
If retail therapy is your way to unwind, you will not be disappointed on this island. The shops range from art galleries to souvenir shops. The majority of the shopping can be found in Old Harbor where the ferry docks but there is shopping found in spots all over the island.
In addition to hiking and searching for glass floats, Block Island offers a large variety of things to do for the more active visitor – fishing, boating, kayaking, parasailing, snorkeling, horseback riding, biking and bird watching to name a few. For more information on these activities you can visit:
No matter what your plan or lack of a plan, you won’t have a problem filling your day with things to do on Block Island.
Block Island–Other Things To Know
Block Island wants visitors to enjoy their time on the island and does provide some facilities to keep you comfortable during your stay. Bathroom facilities are located at the Fred Benson Town Beach Pavilion, Old Harbor Dock, and right next to Block Island Maritime Institute in New Harbor. Shower facilities are located at the Fred Benson Town Beach Pavilion and also at the Old Harbor Dock. You need a token to access the shower and they can be purchased for $2 at the office.
Of course, I would have loved to tell the story about how we found a float on our first try but, what fun would that be?? We visited The Block a few weeks ago with The Donovan Group and enjoyed a beach hike as well as a hike through Lewis Dickenson Farm and again…no glass floats were found but we had an equally good time on the adventure. The summer is winding down and I think that I have at least one more hunt in me for the season – thinking late October with the views that can only get better with the foliage. I was so happy to see more of Block Island beyond the main street where the ferry docks. It is so much more than shops and mudslides – thank you Glass Float Project!
Below are additional links to sources of information about Block Island and The Glass Float Project.
Check out this YouTube Video: Hunting treasures on Block Island
Elise Olson is a Broker Associate with The Donovan Group at Homes By Connect in Portsmouth, Rhode Island