by Dr. Sarah Treanor Bois
Director of Research & Education at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation
According to the great authority known as social media, the Nantucket population at the onset of August was somewhere between 90,000 and 100,000 people. I cannot imagine that our island can hold that many people!
If you try finding a parking spot, a restaurant reservation, or a babysitter, you know that those numbers might be accurate. Reports of water use, electricity use, and empty shelves at the grocery store all point to lots and lots of people on the island.
Here’s the thing: there are easy ways to avoid the crowds and enjoy what Nantucket truly has to offer. Here are a few tips for getting out into nature, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. So pack a lunch, grab your water bottle, and get ready to leave the confines of town. You may have to put in a little extra effort, but it will be worth it.
I work at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation on Eel Point Road, so we’ll start there. Getting to work can be a hassle of traffic jams this time of year, but turning onto Eel Point Road, the whole scene changes. The pavement turns to packed dirt, and everything slows down a bit. The Linda Loring Nature Foundation trails are open sunup to sundown every day. The rolling trails don’t allow dogs, but there is plenty to explore with views of Long Pond, Nantucket Sound, and pristine native landscapes. You can explore completely on your own with a self-guided nature trail, or sign up for a Friday morning guided walk – free for members. It’s just far enough from town to limit crowds, but close enough that it doesn’t take too long by car or bike. The Wave Bus stops at the top of Eel Point Rd, so you could also walk the last mile-and-a-half.
If you’re looking for a longer get-away and you can walk on the sand for a while, I encourage you to check out Smith’s Point. Drive, ride your bike, or take the Wave to Madaket. You can bank on an hour-and-a-half for the walk out and back—and that’s if you don’t stop for too many photos. Smith’s Point is the spit of sand that juts out into Madaket Harbor, stretching out towards Tuckernuck. There is also great shorebird watching out there with a high likelihood of seeing piping plovers, least terns, and American oystercatchers. For a guided experience, Nantucket Walkabout does walking tours and will even pick you up in town to take you out there. Reserve your walk at walknantucket.com.
As the island’s largest landowner, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation (NCF) has a lot to offer. They own, manage, and maintain many of the island’s most popular trails: Sanford Farm, Middle Moors, and Squam, to name just a few. However, if you’re interested in getting away from the crowds (HOT TIP: don’t go to Sanford on a Saturday in summer), we need to dig a little deeper and explore some of the lesser-known NCF trails. You can download the free ACKTtrails app on your smartphone and explore so much more of what the Conservation Foundation has to offer. This app will help you discover new NCF properties and also provide some points of interest on properties you may already know and love.
If you’re more of the analog-type and prefer paper to screens, another way to explore “off the beaten path” is to check out Peter Brace’s book, Walking Nantucket, available locally at Mitchell’s Book Corner and Nantucket Bookworks. Peter’s book details many trails throughout the island, how to get there, and what you might see. From Coskata Pond to Little Neck, Pout Ponds, and Masquetuck, there is something for everyone. If you’re not sure where any of those places are, buy the book (or check it out from the library). A little bird told me he’s working on a follow-up, so be on the lookout for more great trails to discover in the future.
If you feel like you already appreciate a lot of the walking areas and just want to get to the beach for the day, how about helping with a clean-up before you head out? Every Saturday morning, the Nantucket Clean Team led by Bill Connell meets at 8am for some good clean fun picking up trash around the island. Each week Bill chooses a location to meet, from that meeting point, volunteer participants fan out cleaning up natural areas, beaches, roadsides, and trails. The DPW will then pick up the bags, so there’s no need to fight the dump traffic on Madaket Road. You can go about the rest of your day knowing that you helped clean up our beautiful island and maybe meet a few other “clean freaks” along the way. Definitely a family-friendly activity.
If you want to go on a real treasure hunt around Nantucket, you might want to check out the amazing world of geocaching. At its most basic, geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game. Participants navigate to a specific set of coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. While it can be a good lesson in orienteering and navigation, today’s geocaching involves the GPS in your phone. There are caches for all levels of expertise, all levels of mobility, and levels of mental difficulty. Just go to Geocaching. com to get started. The basic level is free and that’s all you really need.
Geocaching on Nantucket is a great way to learn the island even if you’re a seasoned old salt. There are people who make day trips to the island and try and find as many caches as they can before catching the last boat. Whether by bike or car they often see more of the island than people who spend much more time here. The 2017 article I wrote about geocaching goes into more detail about how to get started, what to look for, and detailed Nantucket specifics: you can read it at yesterdaysisland.com/hunt-real-treasure-geocaching
If you’d rather go by sea (or pond) than by land, you can truly isolate yourself with a kayaking adventure. Solo in a kayak is a quiet endeavor that puts you at water level. Wildlife and bird watching are at their peak when you are part of nature. Paddling on Long Pond or Macy Ponds, I have seen more turtles just swimming next to me. Kayaking in the harbors can be a little more challenging, with the number of power boats right now (and our winds), but hiding out in the Creeks off of Washington Street or paddling about Polpis Harbor can be wonderful secret adventures. Kayak beach down on Washington Street lets you rent kayaks (and paddle boards) by the hour, partial day, full day, or week. They will even deliver to a location which works great for a group who want to paddle out together. I feel calmer just thinking about the sounds of the gently lapping water and birdsong and the feel cool off-shore breezes.
We are so fortunate to have thousands of acres available for roaming. The important thing to remember is that this is a privilege. Respect the rules of each individual property owner/organization and property: keep dogs on leashes, pick up trash, clean up after your dog, no bikes where applicable, and even no dogs on some properties.
Island resident Jerry Stiller used to say as his character on Seinfeld, “Serenity now!” Jerry himself used to go swimming in the early morning at Children’s Beach to start the day with a cool swim during the quiet hours. Hopefully we can follow Jerry’s lead and gain some serenity, remember why we love this island so much, and enjoy what we have! After all, August will only last a few more weeks.