Winter Walks: Smooth Hummocks
Winter Walks – Smooth Hummocks
After picking blueberries two summers ago along the south shore in mid-July, I posted a photo of what would be one of the many gallon Zip-Loc freezer bags almost full of the low bush variety on Instagram and Facebook.
Almost instantly, I got many excited yet quizzical responses, most of them asking where Smooth Hummocks was. Incredulous, I responded that it was the open space, the sandplain grasslands south of the Miacomet Golf Course. Again, more perplexed comments.
I was astonished that so few people calling themselves year-round residents couldn’t pick out Smooth Hummocks on a map of the island. Yes, I realize that for most people living on Nantucket, the island consists of the south shore beaches, town, Stop & Shop, the Chicken Box and maybe Squam Swamp, but c’mon, people, get out there and explore your island. Learn your island geography!
Anyway, to this week’s hike.
Smooth Hummocks, which you drive through on your way to Radio Tower Beach, is part of a rare ecosystem called sandplain grasslands running roughly from the airport west to Head of the Plains in Madaket in the vicinity of Sheep Pond Road. In fact, of the tens of thousands of acres sandplain grassland that once existed along coastal Southern New England, there’s roughly 1,900 acres left. It’s found only on Nantucket, Tuckernuck Island — you better not ask where that is — and Martha’s Vineyard with more than a quarter of it on Nantucket alone.
This unique coastal ecosystem is comprised of low shrubs, rare grasses and wildflowers, many, relatives of plants growing in the Midwest prairies. Ground nesting birds including the Northern harrier and, formerly, the short-eared owl can be found thriving in this habitat depending on how many humans frequent the area. Unfortunately, Smooth Hummocks is too heavily used for the short-eared owl’s preferences, which mainly resides on Tuckernuck.
The land is owned primarily by the Nantucket Islands Land Bank and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, the former employing mowing and prescribed fire for fuel and invasive species control, and for research purposes.
I love walking this area for the same reason I explore Head of the Plains from time to time: the wide-open spaces. By virtue of its minimal refuge in the form of trees and dense brush found in the moors, this is yet another relatively safe part of Nantucket to hike during deer hunting season, which continues for another two weeks, Dec. 12-25, for muzzleloader hunters. I regularly hike Smooth Hummocks during hunting season because the deer are seeking cover not found out on this terrain.
Sunrise and sunset walks here are spectacular because of the light on the plants and the vast expanse of sky one can see while walking. There is easy access to the beach at several spots and there are many dirt-sand roads to explore.
Getting there is pretty easy. Follow Milk Street Extension up a hill past the Maria Mitchell Association’s Loines Observatory opposite a cemetery and down past the intersection with Vesper Lane where Milk Street
Extension becomes Hummock Pond Road. At the next sharp curve to the right, take a left onto Somerset Lane. At the next four-way intersection, go right onto Somerset Road. Follow this wide, long road down to its end where you’ll take a sharp left onto West Miacomet Road. On this road, take your first right onto a dirt road.
Shortly after seeing golf course on both sides of the road, park in the parking area you’ll find on the left.