Kayak Quest offers adventure and education
"Don't I have the best job in the world?," asks Suzan Bellincampi, as if she needs to further prove her enthusiasm for her work. The director of Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Ms. Bellincampi is eager to have two more people try out her newest creation, the Sengekontacket Paddle Quest. This is the most recent Quest from Quest Martha's Vineyard, and is the only one done by kayak.
The product of a year's worth of dedicated work by Ms. Bellincampi, the Paddle Quest is a relaxing but inspiring adventure around Sengekontacket Pond and its treasures. It is an eye-opening journey that reveals the past, present, and potential future of the pond. Included in the cost of the Quest ($30 per kayak for Mass Audubon Society members, $40 for non-members) is a kayak, paddle, life jacket, net and a dry bag containing a whistle, binoculars, sea life and bird charts, and most importantly, the Quest guidebook. The guidebook, a staple of all Vineyard Quests, consists of a map of the pond and the Quest sites, accompanying rhyming tidbits of information about each of the six selected sites. The Quest writing here serves more to inform the participant of the different sites and their history and importance, rather than give clues on how to find the next site, as the writing often does in other Vineyard Quests. Safety tips and useful information are also provided within the text:
The launch point of a Sengekontacket adventure. Photo by Jesse Husid
You can paddle to five special places on this Quest.
Use common sense-keeping safe is the best.
The wind and waves may determine your path.
You may reach all of the sites, or perhaps just half.
This warning is of particular importance to Ms. Bellincampi, who stresses that the Paddle Quest should generally be avoided by those who have never kayaked before. Instead she recommends one of Felix Neck's guided programs. "It's really for people 10 and up," she says of Paddle Quest. "So it's really not for kids only. Kids can have a tough time with the paddling."
Ms. Bellincampi was so intrigued by the idea of Questing upon first hearing about it, that she decided to introduce Quests to the Island. The idea came from a conference with Steve Glazer, the developer of the Valley Quest program, part of Vital Communities of Vermont. Ms. Bellincampi created the Vineyard's first Quest, for Menemsha Hills in 2004. Since then, it's been Quest after Quest for her, leading up to her most recently completed project, the Sengekontacket Paddle Quest. The Vineyard Quests vary tremendously, from a Cape Poge driving Quest to the Polly Hill Arboretum Quest to the Seven Wonders of Oak Bluffs Quest, but the goal is always the same: "Fostering a sense of community and partnership through the creation and sharing of treasure hunts that celebrate our island's special places," according to questmv.org. This is accomplished through scavenger hunts and nature walks which aim to give children and adults alike a more informed and appreciative outlook of the beauty and splendor of different locations around the Island. "It's a fun activity," says Ms. Bellincampi. "It engages people, but it also teaches them about places."
Ms. Bellincampi wants to debunk the notion that Paddle Quest, and Vineyard Quests in general, are aimed solely at kids. "If you look at the language, the (Quests) like Paddle Quest, that are made by adults, are at a little higher level," says Ms. Bellincampi. "I think it varies. I think it's a misconception that it's only for kids, it's really for anyone who wants to see beyond the obvious."
Though Ms. Bellincampi was the driving force behind the creation of the Paddle Quest, it was far from an individual effort. The creation of the Paddle Quest involved about a dozen partners, Ms. Bellincampi estimates, including the Mass Audubon Society, the Martha's Vineyard Museum, the Vineyard Conservation Society, and shellfish constables from both Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Partial funding was provided by Friends of Sengekontacket, Inc., as well as several other groups and organizations. The groups came together for an oral history gathering where many of the ideas and quotes used in the Paddle Quest guidebook came from. "It's people that come together who love the place and want to share it," says Ms. Bellincampi. "It's people coming together and deciding 'Here's a special place that we want to share. What do we want to share about? Do we want to share that it's the Jaws bridge, or do we want to share that Linda Marinelli used to shuck oysters here?' The process of making it was amazing."
Part of this task is deciding which sites or locations should be stops on the Quest. Of the 6 sites on the Quest, a couple seem fairly obvious (Sarson's Island), while others are a bit surprising (The MV Rod and Gun Club). Many ideas however, had to be scrapped. "Sengekontacket could be a story about scallops, it could be a story about the railroad, it could be a story about people or snails, it could be anything," said Ms. Bellincampi. "As a group, it's a very interesting exercise to focus yourselves down and decide what is the story you want to tell. I can tell you one of the things that got nixed, the railroad on State Beach. So what we did is instead of focusing on the railroad, we included it in the discussion of the Barrier Beach."
Having narrowed down the six sites (including the launch site) the Quest was tested extensively. With all the kinks worked out, the Paddle Quest was officially completed earlier this summer, a half hour before the first customers were scheduled to go on the journey.
Paddle Quest participants are encouraged to kayak at their own pace and see as many or as few of the sites as they wish, depending on strength and skill level, as well as weather and water conditions. Participants may kayak for up to two and a half hours, though most will finish in less time. At the conclusion of the Quest, one has to find the signature Quest box back at the launch, in order to officially complete the Quest.
"The community here is very rich and very strong, and I want to be in a place where people care about place," says Ms. Bellincampi. "Hopefully every rental house and every seasonal homeowner and every year-round person will have (the Quest book) in their library because it teaches in a way that's fun, independent, and really awesome. In order to save what we have here, it's important to understand what it is and know the history and know the past. That's what we're trying to do, is connect people to place, ultimately."
Reservations for the Sengekontacket Paddle Quest may be made by calling Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary at (508) 627-4850.