Winter walk explores Island hiking trails

Snow-covered meadow: Photo by Susan Safford
Bright sunlight reflected off of the snow-covered meadow.

Story & photos by Susan Safford - March 9, 2006

The Land Bank winter walk series resumed last Sunday with an energetic trek through Tisbury Meadow Preserve and points beyond. Land Bank ecologist Julie Schaeffer, who usually organizes the events, has been on a short leave of absence because of the birth of her son. Now that she's back, and obviously full of energy, she planned an ambitious 5-mile hike, which she warned might last up to four hours.

Around 20 people gathered at the trailhead next to the Mai Fane house in Tisbury. The house was built in 1766 by Henry Luce along the old Holmes Hole Road, the only road leading out of town at that time, according to Ms. Schaeffer. The grassy fields and hilly landscape lead up to an expanse of white oak along the ridgeline.

Ms Schaeffer chose this property to demonstrate the extensive trail system that connects this property to other conservation lands via ancient ways or easement loops. She confided in us that she had walked this route earlier in the week to see how long it might take, and only got lost for half an hour. So, with a trail map held tightly in hand, and Suzan Bellincampi, director of development at the Trustees of the Reservations (TTOR) bringing up the rear (so there would at least be a consensus of two on which direction to go in if the question arose, and it did), we set off.

The previous week's snow remained on the ground. It was rarely a hindrance, slippery only on an incline, but it was always wet. We soon left the open meadow and made the steep climb up to the ridge and into the woods, following narrow trails, which then opened onto Old Holmes Hole Road, the oldest ancient way on the Vineyard. We then made our way onto other paths, often after some discussion to make sure the route was the right one, until we came to Stoney Hill Road. We crossed a few trail easements, one along the Glenn Jackson farm, and then around Thimble Farm. At our furthest point we skirted Little Duarte's Pond Preserve before heading back along the Sailor's Burying Ground Road to the Wapatequa Woods Preserve, and finally returning to Tisbury Meadow.

Although we kept a brisk pace, there were occasional stops. At one stop Ms. Schaeffer explained the difference between white oaks and black oaks, the white oak with a lighter, flakey bark, and the black oak having a darker, grooved bark. We were then tested. Ms. Schaeffer pointed to random trees, and once we were able to correctly identify them, we moved on.

We walked along the boundary of the South Mountain Company, and admired the windmill, stopping briefly to listen as the blades spun in the wind. Along the easement trail behind Thimble Farm we were told there was a vernal pool, now snow covered, a home to fairy shrimp, a rare invertebrate. Ms Schaeffer told us how chickadees are communal birds; there is a dominate pair, and 5 to 6 juveniles that move as a flock within a designated area, a territory they defend and where they have a source of food, usually eggs of insects, and seeds.

But mostly we walked, and although it felt like we had walked for a full four hours, by the time we returned to our vehicles, a mere two and a half hours had passed. Some were complaining of boots soaked by the continual walking through slushy snow, and pant legs dampened by the inevitable wicking upwards of the water.

Ms Schaeffer will continue the monthly Land Bank walks in April and May, held the first Sunday of the month. The April plan is to go to Great Rock Bight Preserve in Chilmark, and in May to Blackwater Pond Reservation off Lambert's Cove Road in West Tisbury. The much-anticipated cross-Island walk takes place in June, as usual, although the route has not yet been decided.