Tick warning signs coming to Chappaquiddick

The Chappaquiddick Island Association and MV Tick Project are each preparing related signage efforts.

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Next month, the Chappaquiddick Island Association will be posting signs warning of the presence of ticks at trailheads on Chappaquiddick. 

The association will be placing signs at Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank trails.

Also, by next summer, the MV Tick Project plans to place its own warning signs on Chappaquiddick, as a supplemental project at Land Bank and Sheriff’s Meadow properties. This effort could eventually lead to warnings Vineyard-wide.

The sign projects see themselves and each other as meant to alert hikers and passers-by to the risk of ticks. Chappaquiddick is of particular interest regarding lone star ticks: the Tick Project’s 2022 Residential Yard Surveys identified the island and Aquinnah as local hotspots for the species. 

Lone star tick bites can make people allergic to the carbohydrate alpha-galactose, which is found in mammalian products. This can even cause severe allergic reactions to common foods like beef, pork and dairy.

Alan Feldman, who chairs a tick subcommittee within the association’s Environmental Committee, will be posting the signs. “You don’t necessarily want to educate people with the sign. You want to let them know: ticks are here, remember that,” he said. “Simple and bold as possible.”

Feldman says that a dozen of signs have been printed at approximately $10 each, and funded by the island association. “I think [the dozen] will cover most of where the Land Bank has the beginning and end of trail markers,” Feldman says. If necessary, Feldman will order additional signs.

Patrick Roden-Reynolds, who heads the MV Tick Project, agrees with the importance of awareness.

Roden-Reynolds is preparing different, larger warning signs. He plans to post them at Chappaquiddick trailheads, and has discussed his project with the Land Bank and Sheriff’s Meadow. Roden-Reynolds also has the entire Vineyard in mind for his signs, as he sees current public alerts as incomplete and not eye-catching. “Some trailheads have older black-and-white ‘Caution: deer tick’ signs…it’s due time for kind of redoing all of those and making sure all the trailheads have signs…all the Island is tick habitat,” says Roden-Reynolds.

Roden-Reynolds says that the number of his signs posted will depend on further input from the Land Bank and Sheriff’s Meadow, and that the input will also inform total project costs.

Since the Chappaquiddick Island Association formed its Environmental Committee in September 2019, the committee has consulted experts on tickborne illnesses, explored deer culling on Chappaquiddick to lower tick populations, and distributed anti-tick socks.

Other than new signage, Feldman says that the next step on Chappaquiddick will be a study to determine the local deer population. Feldman cited the example of Monhegan Island, Maine. Monhegan Island hired a sharpshooter who hunted all their deer, a population of roughly 100. After, ticks and tickborne illness dropped on the island. 

Feldman acknowledges that eliminating all of Chappaquiddick’s deer would not be well-received, nor a simple task. A better sense of Chappaquiddick’s deer could allow a middle-ground culling goal. “Scientists believe that on Martha’s Vineyard, there should be five to 10 deer per square mile,” says Feldman. “Scientists think there may be as many as 30 or 40 per square mile. More deer means more likelihood to transmit tickborne illness. Deer are still the most important vector.”

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