Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 40 Issue 13 • July 29-Aug. 4, 2010
now in our 40th season

Island Sanctuary

As your four-wheel drive slowly bumps through the sand on your way to Great Point, you peer out your window and see grey seals basking in the sun. Look a little further beyond and a horseshoe crab scurries along back to the water as a Piping Plover tweets along in the sand.  The only trace of man in this peaceful, serene sanctuary is the serene Great Point Lighthouse. You want this place not to change and this moment to last forever.

Although you cannot crystallize the moment, thanks to the Nantucket division of the Trustees of Reservation, you may revisit it every summer.  The Trustees of Reservation maintains the 1,117 acres of the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. Thanks to generous donations and their hard work they have been able to create a place of serenity like no other on Nantucket.

The Trustees of Reservation, or TTOR, is the oldest regional land trust in the world.  Formed in 1890, its mission, according to their website, is to “preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts."  On Nantucket that means preserving what many call their favorite parts of the island: Great Point, Coskata, and Coatue.  In charge of the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge or CCWR, is Superintendent Stephen Nicolle and Property Manager Diane Lang.  The Trustees on Nantucket work together as a team and work closely with other Nantucket environmental groups such as the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, whose property abuts the Trustees’ tract.

Originally held by the Wampanoag Indians, who named the land Coskata meaning “at the broad woods” and Coatue meaning “at the pine woods,” the land eventually fell into private ownership.  Then in 1974, Mr. & Mrs. Backus and Mr. & Mrs. Sziklas made the first donation of this important land to conservation.  I recently talked to Mr. Sziklas to ask about the donation. He said, “Well my Father-in-law gathered all this land through several generations, and always wanted it to be preserved so we donated it to conservation. We are happy we made the donation...the use of the land is different than what my Father-in-law envisioned.  The Trustees have expanded the use of the land... but it’s been good, and we are glad we made the donation.”  The Lohmann family donated additional acreage through out the 80s and 90s to the refuge.  The Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge was finally completed in 1998.

Property Manager Diane Lang added, “CCWR (The Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge) is truly a wild place.  TTOR has managed the property to preserve the natural beauty.  Every day I arrive on the property I am thankful for the people who donated their land to be protected and enjoyed.”

The refuge is home to many rare animals and special plants, such as the largest savannah of red cedar in New England.  Also, the CCWR is used for many scientific studies.  Lang said, “The MMA (The Maria Mitchell Association) is conducting an ongoing snake research program.  Of course we do the shorebird monitoring.  USFWS has a biotech here this year gathering data on the gray seal population.”  Many readers will remember the famed Mr. Hannah, an osprey at the refuge who was tagged by scientists to make it possible to follow his migration on the Internet.

Although the land is used for scientific research and protected, it is still available for public use. Lang said, “I have only witnessed that our beach goers have embraced the efforts to protect the nesting shorebirds.  There seems to be an understanding on the beach that if we give the wildlife their space then we can all use the beach appropriately.”   When visitors purchase a Great Point oversand permit, they receive a membership to the TTOR as well as a summer full of beautiful and remote beaches, fishing, and family fun.

Those looking to volunteer are in luck.  The TTOR sponsors several Beach Clean-Up Days through out the year open to all.  A unique volunteer opportunity they offer is to serve as the Great Point Lighthouse Keeper, greeting the public and giving tours of the historic lighthouse.  Also, a donation of $500 to the TTOR allows one the entry to the exclusive Great Point Circle and perks, including a complimentary oversand vehicle permit, a special Great Circle membership card and window decal, two free tickets to their premier natural history tour, and discounted tickets to other Trustee events.

The TTOR is also committed to providing exciting programs to the youth on Nantucket.  One such activity is the Youth Surfcasting Adventures. “The Youth Surfcasting Adventure is really popular and is the only program on island that teaches kids how to fish through surfcasting.  Last year we had a family sign up for one week and then have such a good time that they signed up for three more weeks.  Our angler is Chris Benelli and he’s really experienced working with children and great at helping them pick up the sport.”

This year the TTOR is teaming with the Nantucket Island School of Design & the Arts to bring artistic themed classes to Great Point.  Land said, “We are doing an art classes this summer paired with NISDA.  This morning’s class was painters and it was called “En Plein Air Painting.”  Were also doing a photography class with NISDA that involves a youth group that’s doing photo journals and landscapes.”

Another great program offered through the TTOR is the “Two out of Three Lighthouse Tour.”  Lang explained, “The two out of three lighthouse tour is a unique tour that allows people to tour both the Sankaty Lighthouse and Great Point Lighthouse.  Only five more days of the tour are scheduled this summer and they have been selling out.  People meet at our gatehouse get a tour of the Sankaty Lighthouse, then take a four-wheel drive through Great Point and get to go all the way through the wildlife refuge, see all the sights, and then get to go up and view the Great Point Lighthouse. People get to go up, around, and in both lighthouse, take pictures, and have a great time.”

Nature stuns us with her beauty. Man has the power to destroy or conserve the natural world given to us.  We’re lucky that organizations like the Trustees of Reservation work hard to keep the natural beauty of Coskata and Coatue as pristine as the day Nantucket was first discovered.  The next time you purchase your Great Point oversand sticker, know that you, too, are helping to protect this sanctuary on Nantucket.  

All reservations for events and trips are handled at the Wauwinet Gatehouse. Their number is 508-228-6799 and they are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.


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