Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Look for nature’s seasonal changes on Martha’s Vineyard
Lady's slipper orchid.

Nature is ever-changing, that’s a constant. But springtime offers an opportunity to observe nature at work in fast-forward time. Every week, there’s something new to appreciate along the Island’s trails, shoreline, wetlands, and woodlands. Make time to get outside and witness the unfolding of buds and leaves and ferns and flowers.

The popular off-season guided walks on conservation properties continue until June. On Saturday, June 1, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank will conduct its annual Cross-Island Hike, a 20-mile ramble from one property to the next; this year’s hike will start at the Lake Tashmoo beach (where last year’s hike ended). The Vineyard Conservation Society’s Beach BeFrienders program has gone into overdrive and shows no signs of slowing down. Mark your calendar for this year’s annual Island-wide Earth Day beach clean-up on Saturday, April 27.

Check out more event listings on the free TrailsMV app. Get outside and start exploring. Time spent in nature uplifts our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, and a shared love of the outdoors encourages new friendships. Spring into action!

Trees in distress

Three insidious invertebrates are having a dramatic impact on the Island’s woodlands:

Southern pine beetle.

The southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) tunnels under a tree’s bark and eats the phloem, the fleshy pipeline through which food is passed to the rest of the tree. The beetles are spreading quickly across the Island’s numerous stands of pitch pine (Pinus rigida). Conservation land managers have begun an extensive tree-cutting program in an attempt to slow the beetle’s spread, including in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest and on properties owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. Phillips Preserve in Vineyard Haven is closed to the public until further notice while tree-cutting and removal is in progress.


Beech leaf disease.

Beech leaf disease, caused by a foliar nematode (Litylenchus crenatae ssp. mcannii), a species of tiny worm that invades leaf buds and kills the leaves as they unfurl, is wreaking havoc with the Island’s American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia). To date, arborists and researchers have had little success finding an effective and reliable remedy for beech leaf disease. Around the Island, beech trees – beloved for their distinctive, smooth, mottled-gray bark and late-autumn flutter of papery, bright-yellow leaves – are in various states of decline and are expected to slowly die off.


Beech blight aphids.

While walking Island trails, you may also notice that some beech trees show signs of infestation by the beech blight aphid (Grylloprociphilus imbricator), which forms dense colonies to feed on sap. These aphids, which appear along tree branches as wooly white clusters with dark droppings on the ground below, are less damaging than the nematodes, but they make trees weaker and more susceptible.

TrailsMV includes all public trails on Martha’s Vineyard

The free mobile app TrailsMV – which includes 220 miles of public walking trails on more than 100 properties across Martha’s Vineyard – uses the latest in ArcGIS geospatial mapping technology. Easy to use, it features event listings and suggestions for excursions, mini articles on nature topics, and user-submitted photographs.

The TrailsMV mobile app is made possible through the generous financial support and collaboration of individual donors, the Island’s conservation organizations, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and the six Island towns. Cape Cod 5, Edey Foundation, Farm Neck Foundation, Martha’s Vineyard Bank Charitable Foundation, and Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation have helped underwrite recent and ongoing improvements to the app.

Download TrailsMV free from the App Store or Google Play.

— James Gathany

Keep an eye out for ticks, too.

Ticks are active year-round. Joining deer ticks and wood ticks out on the trails, meadows, beaches, and woodlands these days are lone star ticks, a relative newcomer with potentially serious consequences. Here’s how to avoid Lyme and other tick-related diseases:

  • Learn before you go – read about ticks and how to avoid them.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to spot ticks more easily.
  • Treat shoes, clothing, and gear with permethrin or an EPA-approved insect repellent. Follow application instructions carefully.
  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas, tall grass, beach dunes, and leaf litter.
  • Walk in the center of the trail away from vegetation.
  • Inspect yourself and companions carefully for ticks afterward.
Long Point Wildlife Refuge in West Tisbury – Kate Warner

Martha’s Vineyard Conservation Partners

Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary / Mass Audubon
Mass Audubon invites folks of all ages and from all backgrounds to explore four miles of trails through woodlands, meadows, ponds, salt marsh, and shorelines. Discover 350 acres of beautiful, dynamic landscape and take in the local wildlife that includes more than 100 species of birds. Here are some helpful tips and links if you’ll be visiting us:

  • Trails are open from dawn to dusk for your enjoyment.
  • Please be mindful of trash and stick to our “Carry in, carry out” policy.
  • Members have free admittance. Adults are $4, seniors (65+) and children (up to 12) are $3.
  • Kids can enjoy two nature play areas and a butterfly garden.
  • Restrooms and water fountains are open.
  • Remain on the trails at all times to protect plants, animals, and yourself.
  • Dogs are NOT allowed anywhere on the sanctuary.
  • Bicycles may use the entrance trail leading to the sanctuary, but no bikes are allowed on the interior trails.
  • Upcoming Programs for children, families and adults.

Polly Hill Arboretum
Explore a horticultural and botanical landmark property in West Tisbury.

  • Our grounds are open dawn-dusk, excluding Wednesdays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. We will be closed Wednesdays for maintenance during the 2021 season.
  • The PHA Visitor Center is open Thurs-Tues 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Closed Wednesdays) through mid-October.
  • Masks are optional on our grounds. We ask that visitors wear a mask inside the Visitor Center out of consideration for our volunteers and staff.
  • Dogs are not allowed at the Arboretum.
  • Please do not climb trees or go into planting beds, to avoid damage to our plants.
  • Check our website, pollyhillarboretum.org, for info on tours, outdoor activities, and upcoming classes and lectures.

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation
Founded in 1958, Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation is the local land trust for Martha’s Vineyard, protecting 3,220 acres of land in all six island towns. The mission of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation is to conserve the natural, beautiful, rural landscape and character of Martha’s Vineyard for present and future generations.

Sheriff’s Meadow maintains public trails for hiking, bicycling, bird-watching, and other passive recreation, offers environmental education programs, leads guided natural history walks and other activities on its 22 publicly accessible properties.

  • Leash all dogs at all times on Sheriff’s Meadow properties, and carry out waste.

The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy is a global environmental nonprofit working to create a world where people and nature can thrive. Over the past 35 years, TNC has helped protect more than 1,500 acres of land on Martha’s Vineyard, with a focus on conserving, managing, and expanding coastal plain heathland and grassland habitat. Island properties include the Hoft Farm Preserve in West Tisbury and David H. Smith Preserve in Edgartown.

The Trustees of Reservations
The Trustees asks that visitors follow these guidelines for the health and safety of all, including wildlife:

  • Please keep dogs leashed and away from other visitors at all times.
  • Carry out all waste.
  • If a parking area is full, please come back at a less busy time.

Long Point Wildlife Refuge: Dogs, horses, and other pets are prohibited at Long Point year-round.

Menemsha Hills Reservation and the Brickyard: Bicycles are not allowed on the trails at these locations.

Mytoi: Bicycles and dog walking are not allowed at Mytoi gardens on Chappaquiddick Island.

Wasque: Biking at Wasque is only allowed on permitted trails. Dogs must be leashed at all times. Swim at own risk as there is no lifeguard on duty.

Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank
The Land Bank staff regularly tests water quality as per state DPH at these bathing beaches:

  • Moshup Beach (Part of Aquinnah Headlands)
  • Great Rock Bight
  • Chilmark Pond Preserve (Atlantic Ocean Beach) 
  • Chappy Point
  • Edgartown Great Pond Beach (Atlantic Ocean Beach) 
  • Hillman’s Point 
  • Wilfred’s Pond Preserve 
  • Tashmoo Preserve 
  • Tisbury Great Pond Beach (Atlantic Ocean Beach) 

Land Bank boat user guidelines for Sepiessa Point Reservation boat launch: 

  • All boat ramp and canoe launch users shall practice social distancing. Users should allow appropriate space for users of the boat ramp or launch and clear the ramp immediately when their launch is complete.
  •  Users should ensure they are ready to depart quickly from the ramp or dock as soon as their boat is put into the water. Users not actively launching their boat should clear the launch area.
  • Upon return to ramp, users should load their boat as quickly as safely possible and then clear the launch area.
  • Use of ramps for organized fishing tournaments, derbies, or any other type of gathering is prohibited.
  • Loitering on ramps or use of ramps for any activity other than launching boats is prohibited.
  • Parking at ramps for activities other than launching boats is prohibited.
  • All recreational crafts shall remain a safe distance apart. Tying boats or other crafts together is prohibited.
  • All recreational boating is subject to the discretion of local officials, harbormasters, and law enforcement. 
  • Boaters may only land at the Land Bank’s Tisbury Great Pond Beach and not at other locations on the pond, which are on private land. Tisbury Great Pond Beach is several hundred yards east of the current cut and is marked with an orange buoy.

Manuel F. Correllus State Forest

The state forest’s 5,300 acres and many miles of trails at the heart of Martha’s Vineyard are open in accordance with the following rules:
  • Stay on authorized trails and obey all trail closures.
  • Be courteous of other path users.
  • Respect private property next to the trail.
  • Carry in, carry out all trash and belongings.

Shared-use trail etiquette for bikers:

  • Keep right unless passing.
  • Stop at all stop signs.
  • Trails are open dawn to dusk. If you have appropriate lights, ride at your own risk.
  • Give a clear and audible signal before passing and pass only when it’s safe to.
  • Travel at a reasonable speed.
  • Wear protective headgear. This is required by law for children 16 years and younger, but recommended for all.

The All-Island Trails Committee is comprised of the following nonprofit and government organizations, working together to help protect and preserve the rich natural heritage of Martha's Vineyard. For more information, please visit their websites.

Polly Hill Arboretum

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation

The Trustees of Reservations

Vineyard Conservation Society

Vineyard Open Land Foundation

In collaboration with the towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury

Photographs courtesy of TrailsMV, with thanks to Stephen Chapman, Lanny McDowell, Max Skjoldebrand, Anne Speakman, Nancy Tutko, Kate Warner, Suzanne Warren, and Isabella Youmans.