by Dr. Sarah Treanor Bois
Director of Research & Education at the
Linda Loring Nature Foundation
There has been a meme circulating that says “Nature is not closed.” Despite all the closures, postponements, and cancellations, spring on Nantucket is still arriving. Birds are migrating back, the daffodils are blooming, and the peepers are calling. Spring hasn’t been canceled. One thing that is still available to us all us on Nantucket is the beauty and tranquility of our open space.
Nantucket boasts more than 10 conservation organizations protecting and managing more than 16,000 acres – approximately 52% of the island’s landmass. We have miles of beaches surrounding our coastlines, and most of it is still open for us to enjoy.
Right now, many of us are getting outside and exploring like never before. Daily walks and bike rides have provided an outlet during these stay-at-home orders. At this point, some might be tiring of the same familiar locations and trails. Here on Nantucket, we are lucky to have thousands of acres of open space to explore. Don’t get stuck in a rut! Get out and discover something new!
As Nantucketers, we are proud of our open space, but, more importantly, we should be grateful to the multiple organizations that own, care for, and maintain these lands for all to enjoy. Nature certainly isn’t closed. In fact, our island conservation groups are more welcoming than ever, supporting our community during the stay-at-home orders in some innovative ways.
With the physical distancing orders, each organization is limited in what it can do. Guided nature walks and in-person programming to bring nature to the people are not permitted right now. Despite the limitations, Nantucket organizations have really stepped up to provide solace in nature, excellent educational content, and a bit of entertainment for our community. Below are some examples of how organizations have pivoted from what was planned to what works during a pandemic.
The Nantucket Conservation Foundation (NCF) has a lot to offer island residents. As our largest landowner, they own, manage, and maintain a majority of the trails people are exploring. In addition to keeping their properties open and safe, NCF is providing some unique opportunities for programming for multiple ages. They’ve brought back their Staycation Scavenger Hunt, which brings participants to various NCF properties. It’s fun for kids and might introduce you to a new property or two. Speaking of new properties, download the free ACKTtrails app on your smartphone device. This app will help you discover new NCF properties and also provide some points of interest on properties you may already know and love.
The Linda Loring Nature Foundation (LLNF) has about 275 acres along Eel Point Road. Explore the landscape with the self-guided nature trail which has a brochure that can be downloaded in six different languages. The ever-popular Story Walk is up trailside and a new story will soon be installed. The LLNF BioBlitz was launched at the end of March in response to school closures for people to use as they head out on trails island-wide. It uses a free program called iNaturalist to catalog biodiversity around the island. Using the public, free app, we can all take photos of cool things in nature (plants, birds, insects, etc.) and share them with the community. Experts will even identify them for you!
The LLNF has also converted their Science Pub speaker series into an online webinar. Topics have included gamma rays and galaxies, how to use iNaturalist, and the Mass Audubon Coastal Waterbird program (you can view recordings of the previous Science Pubs here ). This free program showcases local research and conservation and provides an opportunity to ask questions from the comfort of your own home! See the LLNF website for the full schedule into May and how to join.
Other groups are finding ways to help island parents who have newly become teachers. The Maria Mitchell Association’s (MMA), education department is posting a weekly education challenge, followed with a Friday afternoon show-and-tell. Follow the MMA Facebook page to get up to date info about the challenges. The Nantucket Land Council (NLC) has started a weekly bACKyard Biologists program. Alternating between an experiment and a craft, NLC Resource Ecologist RJ Turcotte will provide instruction and demonstration for simple home-based science projects for your family to experience together.
Another way to get out exploring is to go on a bear hunt. Wendy Rouillard, author of the Barnaby Bear series, created the Where Oh Where is Barnaby Bear scavenger hunt. Barnaby can be found all around the island including some of our favorite conservation lands, including Lily Pond (Nantucket Land Bank), Masquetuck (NCF), and the Linda Loring Nature Foundation. If you find all ten locations, you even get a prize from Barnaby!
In addition to our conservation organizations, there are many other education programs and opportunities from other island non-profit organizations. The Egan Maritime Institute, the Nantucket Historical Association, the Nantucket Atheneum, the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club, among others, are creating new and exciting content, fulfilling their missions, and keeping us all sane during this crisis. Please remember to support our local non-profits – they keep us going!
We are so fortunate to have thousands of acres available for roaming. The important thing to remember is that this is a privilege. Please respect the rules of each individual 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. Remember to practice social distancing and follow CDC guidelines. Respect the signage for each property. We wouldn’t want to run the risk of beaches, trails, or properties closing to the public. Note that it is currently shorebird nesting season on the island. Many of the beaches are being fenced and additional signage is going up to protect
the federally-listed shorebirds. Please do your part by following signage and keeping dogs on leashes.
While these island non-profit organizations have pivoted to be here for the community, let’s make sure we can support them in turn. Respect signage, clean up after ourselves and our pets, and contribute financially when we can. They are here for us, let’s be there for them.