Wild, wild life

Felix Neck will celebrate 50 years with special events, after last year’s plan was put on hold.

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Although open year-round, this summer Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, with its more than 200 acres of varying, alluring terrain, is gearing up for some serious fun with special events to belatedly celebrate its 50-year anniversary, which was delayed because of COVID. The special fundraising efforts aim to secure this Mass Audubon property’s work for the next half-century and beyond, to make sure it remains on the Island for children and grandchildren.

This natural preserve where you can walk, search for critters, stargaze, birdwatch, or hold your first snake, includes four miles of trails through woodlands, meadows, ponds, and salt marsh. “Felix Neck operates on Wampanoag territory, where written history records Felix Kuttashamaquat, for whom the property was named, residing on the land in the 1600s. Colonization led to it changing hands over time, with one original owner, the Smith family, holding it for generations,” explained Felix Neck director Suzan Bellincampi.

In the 1960s, the property came to the attention of Anne Hale when she saw a great need for connecting people with nature, sharing it with children, and preserving open space. Hale involved George Moffett, and after purchasing the property from the Smith family, established a summer camp, Fern and Feather, for kids in 1964, which is still around today. Mass Audubon was given the property five years later, in December 1969.

Anne Hale’s children, Tom, Annie, and Phil, and Phil’s son, James Hale, continue to support Felix Neck, as does Jacquie Renear, now 95 years old, who was intimately involved in Felix Neck for 25 years from its beginning. “When I think back on Anne Hale’s dream, she worked it perfectly,” Renear says. “And she had the ability and the knowledge to know all the right people, and knew how to ask people to get things done.” Renear credits not only the then small, immensely dedicated staff, but the stalwart volunteers through those years.

This summer, one of the anticipated events is the second annual Sanctuary Supper, “An Evening Eating for the Planet,” on July 20, designed by Kyleen Keenan, plant-based chef and founder of Happyist Plant Based foods. The supper will take place overlooking the spectacular field of wildflowers. Appropriately, everything will be locally sourced and plant-based. Guests can imbibe wild drinkables and hors d’oeuvres in the meadow during cocktail hour, which will be followed by an organic meal, and then an exciting live auction to end the evening, with special experiences such as a guided bird walk, tour of the shellfish hatchery, and art from local artists.

August 29 brings a new event, the Amity Shark Race, where folks will have a chance to win the coveted “Shark Fin Trophy” for the fastest “swimming” shark in Sengekontacket Pond. But to keep everyone safe, people race wooden shark fins from Little Bridge for a chance to earn some coveted bragging rights and other prizes for the fastest — and slowest — shark. Individuals and businesses can sponsor the sharks for $100 each.

In 1971, Renear initiated what became a beloved fundraiser, affectionately called “Foot It,” that the Audubon Society is reinstituting for around Labor Day. “It was just the best thing,” Renear recalls. “In the very first one, we had 420 people from all over. There was particular support from the schools. There were high school and college students, who had come home, and teachers and the superintendent of schools.” This year, as a trail run/walk, “Foot It” is perfect for all those looking to help raise funds for the Wildlife Sanctuary while getting to explore it at the same time. Participants will wind their way through the sanctuary trails, reminding everyone of the importance of protecting this Island gem.

These events will help provide support and maintain long-term staffing, greening of the Felix Neck facilities, expansion of its climate education initiatives, and offer access to all Felix Neck properties, programs, and the shorelines that allow for exploration, discovery, and quiet contemplation.

“The whole thing has been a wonderful part of my life,” Renear says, “and I’m very happy for the Island that it has this beautiful place for so many people to go to.”

Preregistration is required for the Sanctuary Supper and “Foot It.” For more information on Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and the 50th anniversary events, visit massaudubon.org/felixneck.