Winter Walks: Toupshue Valley-Forked Pond Valley
Winter Walks: Toupshue Valley-Forked Pond Valley
During the production of "Walking Nantucket: A Walker's Guide to Exploring Nantucket on Foot", because of space and printing parameters, I was forced to cut certain routes from this first collection of walks originally published in 2004. One of those walks that didn't make it into the book was Toupshue Valley. While I very much enjoy almost never seeing anyone else out exploring this part of the island, I really wanted to share this special place with fellow walkers and island explorers. So, I hope to include this walk, with certain modifications, in my next collection of hikes. Below is the original version that didn't make the cut.
Forked Pond Valley, Madequecham Valley, and Toupshue Valley were all created about 15,000 years ago by a retreating glacier that crawled southward for about 60,000 years during the Wisconsin Stage of the Pleistocene Epoch. Following glacial scouring, millennia of sand erosion reshaped the beach and sand washed over the barrier beaches to fill the ponds. The ongoing work of this dynamic is visible on the seaward end of the former Toupshue Pond, on town and Nantucket Conservation Foundation land, where sand and debris have been carried across the barrier beach during storm surges.
Geologists refer to the area as an outwash plain, but the common term is “sandplain grassland.” A prairie-like ecosystem defined by open land, sandplain grassland is mostly grass species mixed in with wildflowers. And in each of the “valleys,” pond vegetation, like cattails, still thrive there.
Standing on the low bluff at the ocean end of the former Toupshue Pond, you can gaze inland up the valley and out to sea to spot all kinds of bird species. Look for northern harriers swooping low over the brush, northern gannets diving offshore for fish during the winter, and swarms of smaller birds, such as song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, catbirds, yellow finches, and swallows flitting around the brush. Walk at dusk and you’ll hear more than you’ll see. All the bugs on the island—crickets, cicadas, katydids, and the like—that rub their legs or wings together to flirt with other bugs will be strumming in a chaotic symphony in this valley.
While walking, try to discern the differences between Forked Pond Valley and Toupshue Valley. Forked Pond Valley is nothing more than a withering coastal pond that once reached well inland. Toupshue Pond reaches further inland and is in a deeper valley, so signs of the seasonal pond it once was, including standing water and cattails, are more distinct than in Forked Pond. The remnants of Toupshue Valley’s pond are easier to spot than those in Madequecham Valley (page--), since it is narrower and has several small clearings that hold water. Toupshue is in a shallower valley overgrown by more shrub species and just a smattering of cattails and other wetland plants. Over hundreds of thousands of years, erosion and storm overwash have reworked the landscape so that only faint evidence of the pond remains.
An hour or so before sunset is the best time to enjoy this walk because of what you’ll see and hear. You’ll be assured of at least fairly decent weather from spring through late fall. During the winter, this open land can feel positively arctic when the wind blows—and the wind seems to blow constantly on Nantucket during the winter. In summer, you might find the surf clam shells that many Nantucketers use for soap dishes in their outdoor showers or you might catch a bluefish or striped bass if you remembered to bring your rod and tackle.
This is also a great beach when you want sanctuary from the hordes further west down the South Shore in the spring and summer.
From the parking lot, cross the inland sandwash to the road on the other side of the cattailed remains of Toupshue Pond and follow the road north toward New South Road. Turn right (east) on New South Road. After cresting a small rise and then dropping down into it, turn right just before a yellow directional sign showing a left curve arrow. You’ve entered Forked Pond Valley and should take the next right onto a dirt road leading down to the beach and along the remains of Forked Pond. From the opening of the valley onto the beach, head right (west). The walk loops back to Toupshue Valley via the beach.
Russell’s Way, a washboard dirt track off Milestone Road about three miles east of the Rotary or about 3.9 miles from the village of Siasconset, leads to the start of this walk. Well marked, the intersection with Russell’s Way lies in a dip in the road on the south side. Follow Russell’s Way to a “T” intersection at New South Road, an unmarked, mostly dirt and sand road that runs between Madequecham Valley and Tom Nevers. Turn left (southeast) onto New South Road, take the next right, and head out to the dirt parking lot in sight of the beach. Those riding NRTA should take the ’Sconset/Town Route bus, get off at Tom Nevers Road, and walk west on the bike path to Russell’s Way.