The Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod are all natural gems that contain some of the most idyllic locations and sought-after vistas in New England, if not the world.
On Martha’s Vineyard alone, there are hundreds of Land Bank properties, Trustees of Reservations walking trails, and more than 5,000 acres of the State Forest to be explored.
But with so many options for where to take your family for a walk, or where to catch that vibrant pastel sunset, it can be overwhelming. Luckily, author and nature lover David Weintraub has written a book to quell all our wanderlust, “Walking the Cape and Islands.”
When Weintraub says this is a “comprehensive guide,” he means it. Because not only are the natural landscapes of Martha’s Vineyard stunningly beautiful, they are also enveloped by rich and intriguing history.
With his in-depth look at trails of the Cape and Islands, Weintraub gives us not just a travel guide with maps and details of each destination — he wants to provide understanding of these unique places in the hopes that his readers fall in love, just as he has.
Living on Martha’s Vineyard my entire life, I have had the opportunity to grow up on these hiking trails. My father is an outdoor exercise junkie, and a nature lover. Oftentimes, when I was little, my whole family would drive to Great Rock Bight Preserve in Chilmark to catch the sunset slowly dipping below Vineyard Sound. Weintraub points out in his segment on Great Rock Bight the diversity of the flora and fauna that can be found at this winding and relatively easygoing reservation. “Cross wet areas via a boardwalk, and enjoy the rich, almost junglelike vegetation, so different from the scrubby growth found at the beach,” Weintraub writes.
For all you plant enthusiasts, prepare to be amazed by the variety of trees, grasses, and vines that grow here on the Vineyard (in case you didn’t already know). From the American holly to the largest stand of hop hornbeam on the Island, Great Rock Bight alone has dozens of plant species, some of which are unique to that area.
Weintraub also does a great job at identifying the quintessential fauna of the Island, such as seabirds and small mammals. Gulls and cormorants can be seen at Great Rock, “roosting on offshore rocks or floating in the Vineyard Sound. Semipalmated sandpipers and other shorebirds often scamper and probe for food near the water’s edge,” Weintraub writes.
One of the greatest things about Weintraub’s writing is his ability to describe detailed directions about a particular trail, while simultaneously painting a picture of the natural landscape.
In a segment he calls the “Spruce Circuit,” Weintraub describes the two- to three-hour route that, by experience, I know is sometimes difficult to navigate. Since the State Forest is so vast and the fire trails that crisscross in every direction have a tendency to look the same, it is easy to find yourself spinning in circles. But Weintraub concisely describes how to get to the trailhead, and where to go from there. And while doing so, he gives the reader an image of what taking that walk might look like.
“Now enter a secluded, densely forested realm, where stands of white spruce, unusual on the Cape and Islands, border the trail, along with low-growing oaks and black huckleberry,” Weintraub writes.
Weintraub writes that a park ranger told him how the Dr. Fisher Road, an ancient way that spans the State Forest, is one of the oldest walking trails on the Island.
Each segment of Weintraub’s book contains maps, directions, whether bikes or hunting are allowed, and even gives you the estimated time for the walk, and the number of calories you might burn.
Moving to some of the sandplain grasslands, where terminal moraine from the stopping of massive glaciers thousands of years ago created low-lying areas of scrub oak and shrubs, Weintraub takes us on a bit of a history lesson.
The Long Point Wildlife Refuge contains winding trails that stretch out along Long Cove Pond and along the barrier beach that makes up Long Point.
In 1912, Weintraub writes that Long Point was so popular with waterfowl hunters that a 430-acre hunting club was established.
By 1968, only three of the club members remained, and they gifted pieces of the land to The Trustees of Reservations, which Weintraub writes acquired the full land title in 1977.
This is just one example of the interesting deep dive Weintraub takes into the history of our many walking trails.
Through extensive interactions with his local friends, compiling endless brochures and trail maps, and exploring many of these natural wonders himself, Weintraub has created a detailed and extensive resource for anyone who wants to breathe the briny air or walk under a tunnel of bright green spruce trees, whether it be with family, friends, or by yourself.
With his book, Weintraub also gives us a connection to our environment, and promotes compassion and good stewardship of these blessings. “And if you become as enamored as I am with this special place, please find an appropriate way to help protect and preserve it for future generations,” Weintraub writes.
“Walking the Cape and Islands,” by David Weintraub, Menasha Ridge Press, $22.95. Available online. Edgartown Books will have fresh copies in soon, and Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven is stocking up as well.