On a sunny Sunday afternoon, what better activity to enjoy the Vineyard and burn off a few calories than a walk in the woods? No conservation organization walks were listed in the calendar section, so I set out on my own to explore the recently opened John Presbury Norton Farm, operated by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, located at the junction of State Road and Old County Road in West Tisbury.
The sky was a cloudless blue and the air cool and crisp, with the temperature hovering around freezing. The new year’s eve snow offered a crunchy underpinning to my footsteps, which echoed as I set off on the mile and-a-quarter loop through the John Presbury Norton property. The preserve itself consists of 114 acres, though the map indicates the trail is relatively short.
The trailhead, a tenth of a mile past the triangle by Old County Road, has six parking sites, sufficient for the size of the property.
Someone on cross-country skis had packed down the trail before me, so the footing was easier than if I had to trail-blaze myself. The oak trees stood starkly against the sky, with branches decorated by lingering remnants of curly brown leaves. The understory of bushes lent a rustic aura to the landscape.
The bright blue diamond markers of the land bank trail are easily discernible. The trail primarily runs along level ground, absent major landmarks or outstanding geological formations. It is a simple walk, easily accomplished in a half hour.
As I proceeded along, I felt like a reversal of the Winnie the Pooh story of the Heffalump — where the more times Pooh and Piglet walked around the big tree, the more footprints appeared. When I set forth I walked in snow worn down by skis and frozen footprints. It was easy going with all that traffic. Further along the skier abandoned the trail, but the marks of boots traipsed through the snow along with me. But for the last quarter mile, even the footprints disappeared, and my tracks were the only ones which marred the snow.
One signal aspect to the walk is the proximity to State Road. By necessity, the trail emerges from the woods just south of Stoney Hill Road, then parallels the roadway for some distance. Traffic sounds permeate the adjacent woodlands, and at times one finds oneself hiking along a trail with cars only a dozen feet away. The majority of the walk, however, is well inland and insulated from the road.
Another factor of the trail is a private road which bisects the property and indicates the presence of people other than hikers. This intrusion is minor, and is part of the land bank’s effort to utilize its property to the fullest with easements and rights of way.
The beauty of a solitary walk in the woods, especially at the onset of a new year, offers the opportunity for contemplation and self-examination. Walking along the winding, woodsy trail gave rise to an appreciation for the beauty of nature all around, for the survival of flora and fauna amid man’s intrusion in the environment. It was a chance to consider changed behaviors at the dawn of the new year, to appreciate the natural beauty of the Vineyard and the land and people who make this such a special place.
While I saw no wildlife on my venture, I felt the presence of deer and rabbits who had scampered across my tracks and heard birds in the oaks and white pines rising all around. The crisp crunchy snow brought a wintry feel to the woods, even as the day warmed.
The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. An adjacent trail may connect to a nearby site owned by the land bank, Wompesket Preserve. And a separate chunk of John Presbury sits apart from the main site. The farm was purchased in stages in 2003 and 2007 and is one of nearly 70 properties, totaling just under 3000 acres, under land bank management.
The land bank has scheduled a winter walk on the John Presbury Norton site for this coming April 5, but for those who want to sample the territory, the property is open now. The land bank map suggests this site is suitable for nature study, hiking and mountain-bike riding, with leashed dogs in season and hunting by permission. The land bank intends this property to be part of a cross-West Tisbury route, leading from Duarte’s Pond to the arboretum by the West Tisbury School. Indeed, John Presbury Norton Farm was included in the annual Trails Day land bank walk last June.