Take a hike!

Cape Cod Life  /  June 2020 / ,

Writer: Elizabeth Shaw

Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge
The Trustees of Reservations want you to get out and get into nature! With over 100 properties, it’s easy to get lost and find yourself.

Since 1891, the Trustees of Reservations have been working tirelessly to keep Massachusetts beautiful, protecting and caring for almost 25,000 acres throughout the state. The Trustees are responsible for over 100 properties across Massachusetts, from the Berkshires to the Islands. Their goal is to “preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional, scenic, historical and ecological value in Massachusetts.” 

Sam Hart, Islands Director at the Trustees, was born and raised on the Vineyard and has been caring for it ever since. “We are the largest owner and steward of coast in Massachusetts, besides the state itself,” explains Hart. Through their properties, the Trustees hope for visitors, especially kids, to engage with nature and the surrounding beauty in ways they might not normally be able to. “It’s really about getting kids out into nature and using our properties as laboratories and as classrooms,” says Hart. “For most of these projects we partner with other non-profits on the Islands and we work very closely with the school systems and the charter school to bring groups to our properties and to work with students.” The Trustees work with programs such as Camp Jabberwocky, Mass Audubon and Polly Hill Arboretum to build robust education and engagement programs. 

As for the general public, the Trustees on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket offer oversand tours for most of their properties. “We have guests come out in our oversand vehicles and they get to see the refuge that way,” says Hart. For those who may want to help and get their hands a little dirty, volunteer opportunities are available. “We have dune profiling with volunteers and we do beach clean-ups; every spring, we have huge beach clean-ups to help us pick up the garbage that’s been collecting over the winter, which is getting worse and worse each year. We have a range of volunteer opportunities and because of the breadth of our properties, we have something for everyone,” he explains. Whether you’re looking to hike, fish, sunbathe or just explore, the Trustees has a place for you.

In the following pages, get to know the different properties Hart and his team at the Trustees take care of across Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge
Photo by T. Kates, courtesy of the trustees

Cape Poge
Wildlife Refuge

On the eastern most edge of Martha’s Vineyard sits the island of Chappaquiddick, or “Chappy.” Thanks to a rough storm in 2007 that breached the thin line of Norton Point Beach, Chappy is completely cut off from the main island, furthering its reputation as a lush, untamed refuge for those who really want to get away. The island is home to the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, Wasque and Mytoi. 

Since 1801, the Cape Poge Lighthouse has marked the northern-most tip of the sand barrier, and despite having been knocked down and rebuilt twice, once in 1844 and again in 1893, the lighthouse has been a guiding light for those seeking Chappaquiddick. Thanks to the Trustees preservation of the area, Cape Poge is home to breathtaking wildlife, including endangered species and anglers’ favorites. 

Wasque makes up the southeastern corner of the island, an exquisite coastal experience for visitors and residents alike. Wasque has something for every visitor, but not every visit will be the same. Due to seismic shifts, increased severity of storms and rising sea levels, Wasque’s position on the outermost tip of Chappy leaves it susceptible to constant change. The reservation is home to many different species of birds, a kind of bird watchers’ paradise, and the butterflies that populate the area will delight kids and adults of all ages. “All of the habitats we maintain and steward are abundant with rare species of plants, birds and fish. It can be a tricky balance sometimes, but that’s the game on Chappaquiddick,” says Hart. 

Mytoi Gardens
Photo by T. Kates, courtesy of the trustees

While nature reserves, beaches and wildlife are to be expected in a place like Chappy, a traditional Japanese garden featuring a pond, native and non-native plants and footpaths is rather unexpected. But, nestled inland is the peaceful, calm oasis that is Mytoi, a place to contemplate, relax, and breathe. “Mytoi is a Japanese style garden that was started by a garden enthusiast on Chappaquiddick. It’s this serene gem in the middle of nowhere!” Hart laughs, “I remember going as a kid and just wondering, ‘How is this even here? How did this magical place just open up in the middle of Chappaquiddick?’” To fully experience the serenity of Mytoi, check out “Mytoi Mindfulness” a yoga opportunity in the middle of the garden. 

Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge

Over on Nantucket, the Trustees have worked to preserve the 16 miles of trails and sand road that make up the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. For those looking to experience the pure, untouched beauty of Nantucket, Coskata-Coatue is the perfect place. Looking out over the dunes, visitors can look toward Cape Cod across the Sound or to the other side of the world across the Atlantic. If you are looking for a destination to reach at the end of your hike, visit the beautiful Great Point Lighthouse. Nature-lovers can experience uninterrupted wildlife in this place that deer, horseshoe crabs, seals and many, many more call home. If you’re looking for the rugged, untamed Nantucket of years past, make sure to visit Coskata-Coatue with its unending beach, rolling dunes and serene forests. 

Menemsha Hills
Photo by Richard Cheek, courtesy of the trustees

Menemsha Hills

When you think of Martha’s Vineyard, do you see the picturesque town of Edgartown or the pastel gingerbread houses of Oak Bluffs? Or, do you see an open expanse of undisturbed dunes and alluring beaches? If you picture the latter, odds are you are picturing Menemsha Hills. This 211-acre preserve is situated in the southwestern town of Chilmark on the Vineyard and has options for every Vineyard visitor. Within the 211 acres exists many mini-environments including wetlands, woodlands, plains and of course, ocean. Each mini environment is home to its own cadre of wildlife. If you’re looking to expand your geological knowledge, Menemsha is a can’t-miss. Across the reservation lies the geological evidence of millennia gone by, of glaciers and retreating ice that created not just the Vineyard, but other islands and coastlines of the Northeast. 

Make sure to visit the Vineyard in 2020 to see the opening of the Trustees 120th property, the Brickyard Reservation, accessible via a mile and a half hike through the Menemsha Hills! “The brickyard was one of the largest brick making operations in New England in the 19th century. At its height, it was producing around 800,000 bricks a year, which was pretty significant for its time,” Hart explains, “It was a large industrial site, with a mill powered by the roaring brook, which runs through the property. But for almost 100 years, it was buried under the overgrowth. We were able to clear it out this spring and do a thorough archeological review of the site. It will be open to the public in May.” 

The Farm Institute

The FARM Institute

Visiting Martha’s Vineyard and don’t want to go to the beach? Looking for something hands-on and educational? Check out The FARM Institute at Katama Farms, the Trustees’ first working farm on Martha’s Vineyard. With a history dating back to the Native Americans and European settlers, the 162-acre farm was almost turned into a subdivision in the 70s until a group of locals stepped in to save it. In 2005, Katama Farms became the headquarters for the FARM Institute. While Katama Farms is owned by the town, the Institute has been managed by the Trustees since 2016. Created to educate kids and teach them about where their food comes from, the Institute is home to cattle, sheep, turkeys and chickens. “We have a summer farm camp for kids that’s been wildly successful. Our mission is to celebrate the food cycle and to teach kids where their food comes from, and we talk about themes of sustainable agriculture,” says Hart. “One of our campers took the knowledge back home with her and started a rooftop vegetable garden at her school in Rhode Island.”

Taking farm to table to the extreme, the Institute provides the public with the meat and produce from the farm. “We completed a teaching kitchen last spring at the Institute which provides us with a year-round space to provide some cooking classes, demos and farm to table dinners,” explains Hart. If you can’t make it to a demo or dinner, the farm has its meat products available for purchase on site, as well as at the West Tisbury Farmers Market and at Cronig’s Market. If you are just looking to see the Farm and explore the property, two trails allow for visitors to walk along the pastures and see the animals. 

As for the goals of the Trustees on the Islands, Hart says “We want to encourage a love of the outdoors, especially when we engage our youth. We’re living in a country now where the average child will get 7 hours of screen time per day and we want to help reverse that. We want kids to be out in nature, to be inspired by nature and ultimately find themselves in nature. That’s the power of nature.”

For more information, make sure to visit online at thetrustees.org and in person at any of their over 100 properties across Massachusetts. 

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth Shaw is a former assistant editor, photographer & videographer for Cape Cod Life Publications. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Elizabeth spent many summers on the Cape, before she and her family moved down full time in 2016. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island as a double major in Writing & Rhetoric and Film Media, and started at Cape Cod Life the following fall. In her free time, she takes as many pictures of her dog, Watson, as possible, in between beach trips.