Saturday, June 6, is National Trails Day, an event usually commemorated with a daylong hike across the Island to emphasize the beauty of the many trails and conservation lands hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission. However, given the challenges posed by COVID-19, the hike cannot be celebrated in the usual fashion.
Sheriff’s Meadow is a land trust that protects 2,900 acres of land across the Island and owns land in each of the six Martha’s Vineyard towns. The organization conserves, cares for, and protects land, while maintaining public trails and caring for cultural resources on the land.
Adam Moore, executive director of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, said the celebration of National Trails Day will be different this year. “Most of the time on National Trails Day on Martha’s Vineyard, the focus has been on the annual cross-Island hike, organized by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission,” said Moore.
“This year, it’s a little bit unusual, because there is no scheduled group cross-Island hike, but there has been more hiking going on than there ever has been, as far as we can tell.”
According to recent data collected by Sheriff’s Meadow, there has been a recent major uptick in hiking on the Island.
“We’ve noticed a surge in use of all of our trails and sanctuaries, and also of the TrailsMV app,” said Moore. “Even though there may not be an organized group hike, I think there may be more people out hiking than ever. It’s been an extraordinary time for trails, for people’s enjoyment of them, and for our need to keep them up and maintain them.”
TrailsMV is an app put out by Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. The app is free on the App Store and Google Play, and provides users with information, including maps of trails, GPS services, landscape photography, and other pertinent trail use information.
Moore said he believes there are two main reasons for the recent surge in trail and outdoor demand.
“There’s an abundance of outdoor activity possibilities here on Martha’s Vineyard. No matter where you live, there’s a conservation property nearby, and a trail,” said Moore. “Another reason is that so many other things have become unavailable that people might do … There has been a time period of a couple months where opportunities to do other things are very limited, but the outdoors has been there for people.”
Suzan Bellincampi, sanctuary director for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, gave recommendations for those looking to celebrate National Trails Day responsibly. “I’d recommend people think about exploring a new place they haven’t seen, or maybe something right in their backyard. In times of climate change, the lower your carbon footprint, the better,” said Bellincampi. “That would also protect, from a global perspective, all these places that we hold so dear.”
Bellincampi stressed the importance of rules around following dog regulations, which may differ from property to property.
“Leashed dogs are really important, especially on our beaches, where we are currently having nesting shorebirds,” said Bellincampi. “All kinds of birds are not only nesting, but also feeding. We have chicks that have been born and that can’t fly yet. A dog or a person could really scare them, increase their heart rate, without the owners even knowing about it.”
Given the precautions associated with the pandemic, new guidelines have emerged for enjoying trails and outdoor activities. Sheriff’s Meadow has posted signs on its properties asking people to wear masks, to maintain distance, and to leash dogs (which has always been a rule, but is increasingly emphasized now), Moore said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed new challenges to ecological preservation, Bellincampi said. “We are asking people to stay local, to be respectful of not parking on the side of the road or squeezing yourself in, wearing a mask,” said Bellincampi. “If you’re wearing a mask or gloves or whatever, make sure they don’t fall out of your pocket.”
According to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission, the Land Bank has celebrated National Trails Day with the cross-Island hike every year since 1993. The daylong hike is usually less than 20 miles in length, and involves traversing across private property, with permission of owners. However, the Land Bank released a statement that, though the hike may be canceled this year, people are still encouraged to independently enjoy public trails on the Island.
James Lengyel, executive director of the Land Bank, said the celebratory cross-Island hike will return next year.
The Land Bank Commission also suggests that any interested parties use the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation’s app, TrailsMV, to look into potential hiking routes and to choose a trail.