The Wasque Reservation sandplain curves downward to the dunes disappearing into the indigo waves of Katama Bay off Chappaquiddick. The white-crested breakers recede into fog above the ocean. A large pick-up truck, which has been converted to a safari vehicle, rumbles along sandy roads and onto the beach, past Wasque Point toward Drunkard’s Cove. Its riders are jostled about in the back. They bump shoulders and exchange good-natured smiles, their fingers wrapped tightly around their binoculars. Five-year-old Anna Brody thinks the ride in the safari truck is the best part of the trip. “It’s like a merry-go-round, it just goes up and down,” she says, demonstrating the motion as she hopped around in her Pochahantas sneakers.

During summer months, the Cape Pogue Natural History Tour leaves the Chappy ferry parking lot at 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. The tour winds through the breathtaking Cape Pogue wilderness and five miles along the beach to Cape Pogue lighthouse. The trip is expensive, $27 for members of The Trustees of Reservations, $30 for nonmembers, and $15 for children ages 15 and under. Any profit goes directly to the effort to protect endangered wildlife and habitats, such as the sand dune restoration project and the shorebird protection program. Together the Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge and the Wasque Reservation include more than 500 acres.

The sandplain restoration project is one of the protection programs underway in the Wasque Reservation. On the safari, naturalist Justine Kohlmann explains the process of controlled burning to restore the rich ecosystem of the coastal sandplain. Scrub oaks and pitch pines which take over the sandplain are removed throughout the year to allow grasses and flowering plants such as the little bluestem grass and the blazing star to poke up toward the sunlight. Burning enriches the soil and destroys the seedlings of the dominating oaks and pines. A hundred years ago, Europeans controlled the growth of woodlands by grazing their animals on the sandplain. Without domesticated animals on the land, the only way to save the grasslands today is by controlled burning. The process dates back to the time when Native Americans burned fields to clear the land for farming and to improve the wild blueberry crop. Miss Kohlmann invites visitors to sample succulent blueberries that she plucks from nearby bushes.

At Wasque Point on Chappaquiddick, the ocean waves spin in a rip current. The water moves sideways along the beach in strange patterns, never directly confronting the sand. Fishermen gather along the shore, waiting expectantly for bluefish to bite. On the Katama side of Wasque, the beach is closed off to protect the threatened piping plover population. Large wire exclosures are scattered along the beach to protect the eggs, tucked almost invisibly in the sand, from skunks and other predators.

The tour skims the Muskeget channel and loops around Cape Pogue Bay, passing through salt and fresh marsh and tidal waters. Now and then the truck jolts to a stop as Miss Kohlmann points out a red-winged blackbird perched on a red cedar or two oystercatchers as they rest on the wrackline of seaweed, codium and eel grass. She shows the group how the oystercatcher uses its beak as a knife prying a mussel shell open and snipping it free for a tasty snack.
Canada geese gather in the lagoon and glide across the water. Years ago hunters at the Pocha Pond Meadow and Fishing Company, formed in 1845, clipped the wings of Canada geese so they could serve as live decoys. The geese therefore never taught their offspring to fly, so generation after generation continue to live on the pond.

Along Cape Pogue Bay, scrub oaks and bayberry bushes line the road and the safari truck turns down an inland road. Around a curve the 65-foot Cape Pogue lighthouse appears unexpectedly, a friendly force amid the vines. Chipped red stairs, in need of a glossy coat of paint, lead up to the white tower. The lighthouse, which was built in 1893, has been moved seven times due to erosion. The last move was done by helicopter. The first lighthouse was put out at Cape Pogue in 1801 and the narrow strip of land has grown smaller as the years have passed.

The tower harbors a wonderful musty smell. The floorboards creak with age and wind whispers through the cracks in the walls. The tower is barren except for a long circular staircase that forms a swirl reminiscent of a conch shell. Several visitors express dizziness as they crane their necks to view the ceiling.

The climb up the rough wooden stairs can only be attempted by two people at a time. A ladder pokes through the chute at the top, which opens to the light itself and the tar-covered balcony. The view is dazzling, and on a clear day the Chatham lighthouse on Cape Cod is plainly visible. The wind on the balcony is fierce, though the lighthouse has been moved 500 feet away from the sea.

As the three-hour tour comes to a close a pair of golden finches flash across the path away from the lighthouse. Safari explorers lean dangerously out the back of the truck and squint at the osprey nests. One man hangs his arms out the sides and attempts to grab the hard green beach plums from their thorny branches.

“It’s beautiful, just beautiful,” says Carol Desjardins of North Brookfield. “People need to come and see how fragile the environment really is. It needs to be protected.”