Winter Walks: Jewel Pond
Winter Walks: Jewel Pond
Yet another experimental walk for what I hope will be my forthcoming, read: sometime in the near future, second collection of walks on Nantucket with the working title of "Walking Nantucket, Vol. II, this Jewel Pond loop is definitely out there.
From what I've observed, a majority of the walking population of Nantucket focuses on the west side of the island. Not saying nobody walks out on the east end, but I rarely see people other than Middle Moors Ranger Allen Reinhard out in this area. Anyway, on the deliciously frigid Sunday afternoon with the cold air starting to wane on Monday, this is an ideal walk for those unfamiliar with this part of Nantucket who are looking to broaden their island trail knowledge. I'm interested read what you think of this walk and this part of Nantucket.
Jewel Pond Loop
Miles: 2.2 miles
Time: 50 minutes
Food: Grapes, beach plums
In mid-January 2008, I began a second collection of walks on Nantucket with this loop when the island’s inhabitants were down to a blissful bare minimum. With deer hunting season a just a memory, a perfect day with almost no wind, clear blue skies and warm sunshine presented itself and I took the invitation.
About as far east as you can get in the Middle Moors is this loop past Jewel Pond, one of scores of kettle holes on Nantucket, that is half trail-hiking and half bike-path walking. Walking this time of year with so few vehicles traveling along Polpis Road, within sight of the ocean at intermittent breaks in the scrub oak, you can catch the far off sound of waves on Quidnet Beach in front of Sesachacha Pond on such a windless day.
For almost the entire walk, you’ll be in one of two sanctuaries owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society called the Sesachacha Heathlands Sanctuary, 862 acres of coastal heathland and sandplain grassland, though the trail does graze the northeastern boundary of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s Middle Moors property.
What You’ll See
Hopefully not another soul, but the first thing you’ll run into is Jewel Pond. One of the larger kettle holes on Nantucket, Jewel Pond, like other such ponds in the moors, serves as refuge for mallard and black ducks, blue herons, bitterns, redwing blackbirds and many upland species. The silent hiker is likely to discover white-tailed deer at water’s edge on the far side of the pond if the wind is your face as you approach the pond.
Further along the trail through the moors looking east, if the leaves are off the trees and bushes, you’ll catch glimpses of Sesachacha Pond, Quidnet Village and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. At a high point in the trail out of the tunnel of scrub oak, all three will be visible along with Sankaty Head Lighthouse and the village of ’Sconset looking southeast, the clubhouse of the Nantucket Golf Club south of that and in the distance, the ocean in front of Tom Nevers.
For those who know their birds, Northern harriers are easily spotted gliding and hovering over meadows and oak thickets in search of rodents all year long. During spring, summer and fall, gray catbirds are meowing and rufus-sided towees are calling.
Once on the bike path heading north back to your vehicle, you’ll eventually walk right past Sesachacha Pond, which can be packed with sea ducks, herons, egrets and gulls during the winter and populated with little and great egrets, and great blue herons along its shore in the summer.
When to Go
Naturally, you’ll want to walk all of the walks in this book all year long because there are different things to see each season, but I prefer the wintertime and in general, low wind days for the Jewel Pond Loop, as much of this walk is exposed.
However, it’s interesting to see how the pond changes throughout the year, as its water comes not from springs or streams, but from rain, snow, sleet and even fog.
Kettle holes are mirrors of groundwater levels in their area and are the reason for naming of one such pond, Almanac Pond, because during the spring, the pond is typically full due to heavy rains, dry during the summer, deeper in the fall when more rain falls, and if we’re lucky, sealed with ice albeit lower, during the winter. My visit to the pond on Jan. 12, 2008, revealed a wet spot shallow enough to wade across ankle-deep and about one quarter its springtime size.
During the fall, there is actually leaf-peeping on Nantucket, so you should get out into the moors during October to see the brilliant reds of the black tupelos and the poison ivy, the subtle oranges, browns, yellows and reds of the scrub oak leaves. Wild grapes and beach plums are ripe well into September and blueberries can be found on low bushes in August.
From the grass parking spaces, walk west away from Polpis Road up the dirt road and take the first left you come to down into the thicket of scrub oak. Shortly after getting onto this single-track trail, you’ll see the little path running down to the eastern edge of the Jewel Pond. From this turn after exploring the rim of the pond, continue south along the trail.
After the pond, the next wicked cool stop along this trail will grove of pitch pines up on a hill to the west. You’ll have seen from the edge of the pond looking up to the left above. Now, as you walk away from the pond to the south, this grove is on your right, keep an eye out for the right turn that leads up into this grove of widely spaced pines. From this promontory, there are great views to the east of Sesachacha Pond, the ocean just beyond and Quidnet village on the pond.
Walk back to the main trail the way you came and go right on to it. Eventually, the trail opens up and you’ll be able see again Sesachacha Pond, Quidnet Village and the ocean as well as the entire southeast end of the island.
Stay on this trail until you can see the Sankaty Head Lighthouse to the southeast and a short rise southwest of the trail. Walk a bit further and take a left. This trail winds it way down to Barnard Valley Road, which bisects the Middle Moors east to west. Upon reaching Barnard Valley Road, a well-worn off-road vehicle trail, go left (east) and follow it out to the Polpis Road bike path where you’ll take another left and start walking north, northwest along the bike path.
Getting back to your ride is as easy as following the bike path back to the turn onto the ranger cottage road marked with the maroon post. But don’t hurry back. There are great views of Sesachacha Pond and the option of crossing Polpis Road to a path down to the pond. You’ll see it once the pond comes into full view. Walk along its western shore to the road back up to Polpis Road and the bike path.
Hikers from ’Sconset, Quidnet or Wauwinet will have the easiest time getting to the trailhead for this walk, which begins at the start of the dirt access road leading to the Foundation’s Middle Moors ranger cottage. From the start of Polpis Road off Milestone Road near Island Lumber, go ---miles and keep an eye out for a right turn marked with the Foundation’s signature maroon-painted concrete property marker with the number 345 on it. Those coming from ’Sconset proper should travel 2.8 miles from the Siasconset Market to this turn, which will be a left.
Once on this dirt road, park in the spaces off the south side of the road and remember, if the lot is full, don’t drive into the brush, making another spot or block the road by trying to park along it. Choose another walk. Follow the above directions if traveling by bike and hop NRTA’s ’Sconset via Polpis Road Route and get off at the 334 Polpis Road stop and walk the rest of the way if you’re on foot.