Paddling through nature
The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) offers several tours, both guided and self-guided, of the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge on Chappaquiddick. The state's oldest private conservation organization, TTOR owns or manages much of the beach that extends from Wasque Point on the southeast corner of Chappaquiddick north along East Beach, past the historic Cape Poge Lighthouse, and around to Cape Poge Gut, the narrow channel that connects the bay to Nantucket Sound. The beaches feature a near perfect combination of migrating sand dunes, lush salt-water marshes, and vibrant wildlife.
The 516-acre Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge offers 14 miles of over-sand vehicle and walking trails, excellent beaches, and renowned shore fishing. TTOR provides an array of interesting tours that make one of the Island's remarkable natural sanctuaries accessible to all.
Photos by Winthrop Roosevelt
At the start of a recent wildlife kayak tour, TTOR guide Michael Biros provided a quick course in the ins-and-outs of self-propelled paddling. The tour started at Dike Bridge, which spans the narrow channel that connects Poucha Pond to Cape Poge Bay and provides vehicle and pedestrian access to the barrier beaches that make up the refuge. Mr. Biros used the tip of his paddle to draw a map of Chappaquiddick in the sand, orienting the group to their exact location.
After the group became comfortable in their boats, the tour headed out. The first stop was a nearby osprey pole, where the group heard details about the species and its unique habits. As if on cue, an osprey flew past, providing the group with a view difficult to replicate anywhere else.
As the tour wound along a narrow channel between the tall grasses of one of the salt marshes, several snowy egrets launched into flight directly in front of the kayaks. Fish darted past the yellow paddles, which the group was encouraged to dip into the mud to examine the dark organic matter that sustains the marshes.
Once into Cape Poge Bay, Mr. Biros explained the historical significance of Cape Poge while pulling forms of sea life from the flowing brine. At one point he picked up a large whelk off the bottom. The whelk was passed around to each member of the group, giving everyone a chance to run a finger along its slimy flesh. He also introduced the group to the fauna commonly thriving on the sandy dunes of Martha's Vineyard, including juniper bushes and rose hips.
Approximately two hours of paddling were followed by a well-deserved swim in the shallows of Cape Poge Bay. Then the tour headed back to Dike Bridge. As the life vest and paddles were put away, two teemagers who were on the tour reflected on their afternoon on the water.
"It was a really good trip, and I learned a lot about the wildlife," said Drew Spiegel, a visitor to the Island from San Francisco. "It was fun to be on the water, moving around and seeing stuff. It was really interesting to me."
"I liked eating the sea pickles," interrupted Drew's cousin, Louis Yarmolimsky of Newton, referring to an edible marsh plant that Mr. Biros had passed around during the tour. "It was cool that you could just pull it up and eat something right out of the marsh like that."
As he drove the group back to the parking area in a large pick-up truck, Mr. Biros described the organization's goal: "The Trustees protects properties and makes them as accessible to as many people as possible while keeping the natural beauty intact. That is why we do the tours and allow vehicles on the beaches. We want people to visit our property and see it. People need to be connected to nature. If they have no connection to nature, then they will have no sense of why it's worth protecting; why it's worth not filling in a marsh. If they don't get out there and see the natural beauty, then they will see no reason to value it and protect our shared natural land and animals."
The Wildlife Kayak Tour, weekends through Columbus Day, 9 am and 2 pm. Trustees members: adult $30, child (15 & under) $15; nonmembers: adult $40, child (15 & under) $18. For reservations (recommended), call 508-627-3599. For more information, visit thetrustees.org.