In Print

William Flender. Photo by Susan Safford
William Flender's enthusiasm for exercise and exploration helps get readers on their feet to discover Island trails. Photo by Susan Safford

Handy trail guide features new tools

By Russell Hoxsie - January 19, 2006

"Walking Trails of Martha's Vineyard, Third Edition," by William Flender. Vineyard Conservation Society, 2005. 111 pp; $9.95, paper.

Will Flender says he finally has a "real" book in his 3rd edition of "Trails of Martha's Vineyard." Of course he misstates his achievement. Since the first edition appeared in 1996, his book has continued to outsell all others year after year at Bunch of Grapes Book Store in Vineyard Haven, according to Activities Director Ann Bassett. Not only did Will create a successful book in its first edition, he has nurtured it through childhood, adolescence, and now into maturity. "This 3rd edition has color and GPS-guided trail maps," he exclaims with pride.

Brendan O'Neill, Executive Director of the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS), notes in the Introduction, "In our 40th anniversary year, the VCS is pleased to publish this updated version of Will Flender's ever-popular trail guide.... Will served as a VCS staffer where he grew as a passionate advocate for trail planning, access and trail protection.... [He] continues his advocacy interest as a student at Vermont Law School. His ... work is truly a labor of love, with a portion of the proceeds supporting the Vineyard Conservation Society's mission...."

Walking Trails of Martha's Vineyard by William Flender
"Trails" has grown in heft although it's still portable in a handy spiral hip-pocket format. Most surprising is the number of new trails added to the previous 2nd edition.

Will walked me through the Middle Line Road trail off Tabor House Road on an overcast day in early January. One might say it complements the upgrading of the old Chilmark land-fill area now impressively crowned with fill, covered by thick plastic and exhausted for gases of fermentation at intervals along its steep slopes. One catches glimpses of this change along its northern border on Chilmark town land. Of interest is an unusually large ("enormous") boulder on a rise through the dense but bare trees. Later on, an old cart trail, Holman's Road, reveals evidence that it served as the access to "borrow pits" in the days of digging clay for the brick works and paint mill off North Road. What at the turn of the 20th century were cleared pasture and bare rocky hills is now densely treed woodland. Abandoned clay pits remain as kettle-like ponds amidst the new growth. Recently planned affordable housing for residents of Chilmark will rise to the east of Holman's Road with a substantial screen of trees remaining along the road for added privacy.

Evidences of the growth of Vineyard trail systems are several key connections that are planned for the near future, according to Flender, to provide continuity among trials and provision for longer walks across the central Island ridges and valleys and extensions to and from ancient ways. Descriptions and directions for hard-to-find areas like Wapatequa and Wompesket Preserve, for instance, have been clarified with improved individual maps, attractively and accurately laid out in color. A satellite hook-up for GPS guidance aided Flender in producing improved placement of map locations, more accurate distance markers along the trails and points of interest like look-outs, stone walls, streams, adjacent private property and roads.

An added section of short walks will be greeted with enthusiasm by readers who have avoided the exploration of many trails because of the fear they may tax the walker beyond his or her endurance. Pecoy Point, Wilfrid's Pond and Priester's Pond, in particular, remove the limited walker to places of beauty and tranquility within a few minutes of a busy road or settled neighborhood.

Another section pulls together the various conservation groups that are active on Martha's Vineyard. The brief descriptions make some sense of the dozen diverse groups and the summary is a valuable addition to "Trails." In addition, a full-Vineyard pull-out map rests in a pocket inside the back cover, an easy assist at locating all the trail heads. As with any small book filled with detail, space is always at a premium and the author could not avoid the problem for readers like this reviewer with aging vision. A magnifying glass nearby is an advantage in picking out some details from the maps.

Continuing to write an excellent trail guide over three editions must run the risk of producing a work not dissimilar to a bus schedule, but Will Flender's innate enthusiasm and commitment to the Vineyard's environment simply bubble up from each page. His inspired work in revving up a similar enthusiasm in his readers to get out and walk, more importantly to get out and enjoy the treasures of the Vineyard, must be measures of his success. In fact, this 3rd edition is a good read from cover to cover. Its record in the bookstores is assured and traffic on the trails will be his reward.

Russell Hoxsie, in addition to being a retired physician and Times "Off North Road" columnist, previously wrote the popular "Walks" column for the Times. He is author of "Let's Walk, Lilly," a collection of those columns.