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Beach dirt road.

Channeling Barney's Joy on Nantucket's south shore

Sandplain grassland on Nantucket's south shore.
Road to briny paradise.
The reward!

Credit my parents for shoving us three kids out of doors before the iPhone, personal computers, the Internet and video games were even conceived of. When they had the time, both my mother and father, usually on separate jaunts with us since the divorce craze hit their generation when my brother and sister and I were in single digits, took us to all kinds of cool places. Such mountain, coastal, forested and water locales provided the undying gravity that continues to pull me outside everyday with my dog, out on island waters in my kayak and on a mountain bike.

One the coolest places I recall visiting a lot was Barney's Joy, a beach and dune property now known as Demarest Lloyd State Park found in Dartmouth, Mass. on Buzzard's Bay with the Slocum River to the east. My grandparents owned a hunting camp on a tributary in South Dartmouth, which afforded my old man, frequently the leader of these trips to the Massachusetts South Shore, a good base of operations for sorties to Barney's Joy, tours of the destroyers in Battleship Cove in Fall River and expeditions to Monomoy Island in his homemade boat. Yes, my siblings and I, children of divorced parents, were never subjected to the trips to the mall, movies or zoos, although if they were on the way to whatever outdoor quest was planned for that day(s), we sometimes indulged.

I spend a lot of time year-round hiking the dirt-sand roads on the south shore of Nantucket between Miacomet Pond and Madaket out in the sandplain grasslands scanning above the low shrubs for Northern harriersAmerican kestrels and if I'm very, very lucky, short-eared owls while my dog terrorizes voles. Lately, my outings with the dog have taken us out on the Nantucket Islands Land Bank's Smooth Hummocks, around Fat Lady's Beach and The Bluff near Cisco. These walks down sandy dirt roads leading to the beach remind me of the drive from the hunting camp over and down to Barney's Joy. We knew we were almost there when the car descended through vast cow pastures down a dirt road interrupted only by a momentary stop before a locked metal gate over a cattle grate that my father had to stop and open, drive through and then stop again and re-lock with its chain. The beach and its surrounding inland areas were private back then, so passage into the beach and dunes was by the gift of friendship between my grandparents and their friends who owned the land. The last stretch of dirt road ambled down to a rough parking area dunes where there seemed almost never to be other cars.

Our freedom lay beyond that gate. Find yours on Nantucket by heading out to Miacomet Golf Club on Somerset Road, taking the first right before the club and its parking area, after the sharp left-hand bend in the road. Follow this dirt road down a parking area on the left. park, get out and find your dirt road to the beach. Or, drive out Bartlett Farm Road, past the farm entrance and find more dirt roads to the beach. Or go left onto South Cambridge Street off Madaket Road opposite the blue and white Madaket Marine sign, heading southeast. To get there without your own vehicle, hop on NRTA’s Madaket Route bus and get off at the Cambridge Street stop.

Travel directly down South Cambridge Street, ignoring all turns. Just after you sight Midland Avenue on the right, cross Massasoit Bridge, the narrow wooden bridge with white railings. If you brought a car or bike, turn left just after the bridge and park in the grassy area along Long Pond, marked by a gate that reads, “Nantucket Islands Land Bank Commission.” This parking area is four-tenths of a mile from Madaket Road—about a 10-minute walk. From the parking area, walk back out to the dirt track called Massasoit Road at the near end of the bridge and walk left, roughly southeast, to the fork in the road. 

Enjoy!

Writer's note: I wrote and posted this piece five days before my father died on Aug. 21, 2014. Last year, as July crept toward August, I felt a building sense of dread and sadness that I couldn't control. Friends warned me that the annual recurring emptiness was normal when a family member or friend has died. Not knowing he was going down for his dirt nap in five days, I wrote this post to sort of thank my father for imbuing in my brother, sister and I, the essence of his life, which was to be outdoors as much as possible, and to really know that natural world that he moved through. I've reposted this piece both because I love walking the dusty sand and dirt roads down the beaches along the south shore and because writing about the loss of my father is theraputic. I smile while I'm walking, thinking about those trips to Barney's Joy and the drive down the long dirt road to the beach.