There’s a sense of wonder when you walk the trails at Waskosim’s Rock Reservation in Chilmark on a winter day. Dry leaves crunch under your feet on the meandering flat trails that lead you to the stream. It’s easy to be distracted by the moving water, one of few sounds in earshot, but be careful not to trip on the tree roots curving out of the hillside. Up the small stile over the stonewall, across the sheet of ice where life has stopped underneath the frozen water, be sure to take a moment to stomp your feet on the ice and create dizzying patterns.
Then it’s through the remnants of the 17th century James Allen homestead, where on a warmer day you can pause to rest on one of the stonewalls and take in what little sun we see these days. But your dog doesn’t want to stop and knows exactly where he’s heading, running ahead on the trail.
You follow him up the ridge, and then all of the sudden you’re on top of the world, floating amongst the clouds. Standing on top of the rock, you can see a span of the entire Island from the boulder that marks the beginning of Middle Line, a boundary wall running to Menemsha Pond that separated the English and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) lands in the mid-1600s.
Time manages to stop for a moment. As the whooshing of traffic disappears, nature reminds Vineyarders there is life after summer. With the fourth edition of the Vineyard Conservation Society’s edition of the Walking Trails of Martha’s Vineyard by William Flender out this season, Vineyarders can explore more of the Island than ever.
“There is no one special walk; it changes from year to year and is often dictated by weather conditions,” Vineyard Conservation Society director Brendan O’Neill said of enjoying a frozen wetland or varied topography covered in snow.
“Getting outside at any time of the year is wonderful and a great way to stay fit,” he added. “But winter walking is particularly inviting because the tick population is so much reduced.”
“Anywhere you can find American hollies makes for a nice winter walk; the eye is looking for green this time of year,” Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation executive director Adam Moore said this week, recommending Great Rock Bight preserve off North Road in Chilmark, as well as the Middle Road Sanctuary for a more rigorous hike, and the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank’s Middle Line Woods Preserve in Chilmark.
Mr. Moore recommends the trail at Quansoo in Chilmark for cross-country skiing and south shore views. The land bank trail is on Sheriff’s Meadow property and opened last year.
“It’s a nice, flat trail but it has beautiful, expansive views of Black Point Pond and it goes through a grove of really oddly shaped oaks that are very attractive, especially with snow clinging to their limbs. It’s really beautiful,” he said. “It’s a very nice trail for cross-country skiing because it’s wide, flat and a great place to take out the skis. We’ve been disappointed by the lack of snow this winter. I hate saying that, but we’ve been pining for some snow [to stick].”
Land bank ecologist Julie Schaeffer likes to take her young kids to Duarte’s Pond for skating, with a walk around the Hoft Farm Preserve in West Tisbury, choosing to either do a short or long hike. The land bank is working on finishing a connection between the pond and State Road. It also is completing a winter-only trail on the cliffs in Aquinnah.
“Christiantown [Woods Preserve in West Tisbury] is good for small kids because it’s short and there’s a whole lot explore,” she said. “They can walk the whole way and it’s interesting and it’s one not many people go to. The rest of the year it’s not that interesting, but in winter it’s great.”
Ms. Schaeffer chooses walks that will keep her three and five-year-old children entertained, such as the trails at Weahtaqua Springs Preserve and Pecoy Point Preserve in Oak Bluffs.
“It’s easy to keep them entertained if you know the property ahead of time and can coax them,” Ms. Schaeffer said. “We play games, like who can find the bush with the red berries and I-Spy. They really do need to be entertained.” She and her family also always enjoy walking out to the Edgartown Lighthouse for shell and seaglass collecting, or Sepiessa Point Preserve in West Tisbury for otter tracking.
“Every trail is a good teaching trail as long as you open your eyes and are aware of your surroundings,” Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary director Suzan Bellincampi said. “If you’re looking to learn, take binoculars with you, collect your leaves and dry them. It depends if you’re out to learn or find sanctuary.”
When she’s not walking the Felix Neck trails in Edgartown, Ms. Bellincampi enjoys North Neck on Chappaquiddick overlooking Cape Pogue. “I find it to be mesmerizing and magical,” she said.
Islands program director for the Nature Conservancy Matthew Pelikan also enjoys finding little magical spots in the winter, especially when it comes to birding.
“I’m pretty fond of going into the state forest; it can be really quiet there in terms of wildlife but you pretty much have the place to yourself and I really welcome that solitude,” Mr. Pelikan said. “There’s a lot of animal life and tracking is often pretty good there. You can notice places where tracks would cross the fire lane because now there’s snow on them.”
Winter birding revolves around water birds, and he suggests the cliffs at Aquinnah, East Chop, the head of the Lagoon and even the Oak Bluffs waterfront. For birds of prey, snow buntings and horned larks he heads down to Katama Farm in Edgartown in the winter.
“It’s quite different because there’s a lot less bird life and insect life so the focus in some ways tends to be on much more subtle things,” he said. “If I run into a group of chickadees or kinglets in the winter I’m likely to watch them because that’s what is available to watch because you ignore chickadees in the summer.”
“The wonderful thing [about winter] is the solitude and you can go to a large preserve and have it all to yourself,” he added. “I really value that. It’s a very restorative thing for me.”