Off-the-beaten-path gems await visitors

Posted: Friday, May 6, 2016, 12:05 am

  CULTURAL TREASURES:  Loren Spears is executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, the state's only Native American museum, which features artifacts of local tribes. One of the most visible is a birch-tree-crafted canoe, and Spears is a descendent of its makers.   PBN PHOTO/ MICHAEL SALERNO

CULTURAL TREASURES: Loren Spears is executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, the state's only Native American museum, which features artifacts of local tribes. One of the most visible is a birch-tree-crafted canoe, and Spears is a descendent of its makers.

PBN PHOTO/ MICHAEL SALERNO

BY MARY MACDONALD | MACDONALD@PBN.COM

What do visitors to Rhode Island want to see, to keep them coming back again? Unique attractions, experiences that are authentic, and unusual destinations and activities. Along with the restaurants and the popular beaches, visitors want something out of the ordinary. Rhode Island has unique, "under-the-radar" destinations in abundance, according to the state's tourism and marketing advisers, who are actively trying to help promote their stories.

One of those recently contacted by the R.I. Commerce Corp. is the Tomaquag Museum, the state's only Native American museum. Its visibility rose dramatically in April after it was named among 10 national recipients of the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

The museum, located in Exeter, includes several thousand Native American artifacts that reflect the culture of the Narragansetts and Niantics, descendants of the indigenous people of Rhode Island. The museum is an independent nonprofit, founded in 1958, and initially contained the collection of an anthropologist. It has since expanded to include several thousand artifacts, including deerskin ceremonial clothing, hand-stamped baskets made of ash, and wampum jewelry, according to Executive Director Loren Spears.

The small museum, in a rural setting, is open six days a week, as well as by appointment. Spears, who recently met with Commerce RI officials, said she's thrilled the state is interested in promoting more "road-less-traveled" destinations. 

"There is a whole movement in cultural and ecological tourism," Spears said. "Native culture ties in very nicely with that. Indigenous culture is intrinsically connected to the environment. People also want an authentic experience. Our museum gives you that."

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