Martha's Vineyard Service, Massachusetts

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13302A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Protect significant ecosystems and preserve biodiversity
  • Explore charming island towns
  • Bike, hike, or bird-watch during free time


  • All meals, lodging at Hoft Farm
  • All group work tools
  • Naturalist guided hike, kayak rental


DatesOct 6–12, 2013
StaffMary Alice Smith

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Trip Overview

The Trip

On this working vacation we’ll explore the Martha’s Vineyard few tourists ever see. New England’s largest island, the Vineyard lies four miles south of Woods Hole off the coast of Cape Cod. Triangular in shape, the island is 20 miles long and nine miles wide. Formed by glaciers over 10,000 years ago, the Vineyard’s distinctive landscape consists of kettle ponds, open meadows, dense forests, steep cliffs, and natural harbors. Its globally rare habitats include coastal sandplains, grassland heaths, and scrub oak woodlands.

The Vineyard’s bountiful lands and waters provided ample sustenance to Native Americans long before the first European settlers arrived in 1642. Over the next 200 years, islanders made their living as fishermen, merchant seamen, pilots, and whalers. Tourism constitutes the primary economy now. The island’s rich history is evident in its six towns. Each has its own individual character expressed in widely divergent architectural styles -- from the gingerbread cottages of Oak Bluffs to Edgartown's aristocratic, white-clapboard sea captains' homes, and the traditional fishing village of Menemsha. Today, farmers and fishermen remain close to the land and sea in the company of celebrities of all stripes. 

The Project

Since 2000, Sierra Club groups have partnered with the Massachusetts chapter of The Nature Conservancy in its Islands Program. TNC seeks to protect the Vineyard’s significant ecosystems and preserve biodiversity in the face of unrelenting development pressures. While protecting land is one key strategy, TNC also seeks to restore the island’s once-expansive sandplain habitats by replanting native species in these rare seaside prairies. Through its work with many local environmental groups, the Conservancy has become a leading voice in the fight to safeguard the island's special qualities.

Specific tasks will be based on the Conservancy's most pressing needs at the time of our trip. Over the past 12 years, Sierra Club groups have tackled numerous projects, mostly involving the removal of invasive species and working in TNC's nursery for native plants. Invasives include oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, Scotch broom, honeysuckle, and black locust. In the nursery we have collected and sorted seeds, helped with weeding and field-planted native species. We've helped with pitch pine removal around the island in order to restore the rich biodiversity of globally rare sandplain grasslands. 


We will meet at Hoft Farm on the north shore of Martha's Vineyard, less than four miles from the ferry landing in Vineyard Haven and six miles from the Oak Bluffs ferry. Specific directions will be sent later. Dinner on Sunday evening will be our first meal together.

We will work a total of four days (at least one full six-hour day and three partial) with one day off.  There will be ample free time to visit nearby towns, stroll along the beaches and hike preserves. Each day there will be planned group activities, including going on a a naturalist guided hike and kayaking on a coastal pond. Other possible activities include touring Polly Hill Arboretum and the Aquinnah Cultural Center, biking, antiquing, and bird-watching. Fall foliage colors reach their peak in New England at this time of year, and it is peak migration season for raptors. The trip will end after breakfast on our last day. Note that Columbus Day falls on Monday, October 14, 2013.



Getting There

The ferry ride from Woods Hole takes about 45 minutes. If you bring a car, reservations must be made in advance through the Steamship Authority at Expect to pay a round-trip fare of about $140 per car, plus $15 per passenger. Otherwise, you can park in the Woods Hole-Falmouth lot for approximately $10 per day. Pickup at the Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs ferries will be provided for those without cars. The Vineyard Transit Authority provides island-wide bus service at low cost, which can get you around the island and to the Hoft Farm. Air service, with connections through Boston and Providence, is also available.

Accommodations and Food

Our base of operations will be the scenic and rural 90-acre Hoft Farm. Purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1997, the farm encompasses woodlands, meadows, ponds, and wetlands with no neighbors in sight! The renovated farmhouse is used to house the Conservancy's fire crews and field research teams. We will have available for our use three rooms in the farmhouse containing two, three, and four single beds. In addition, there are small (unheated) cabins containing two single beds each. This means you can expect to have one or more roommates, depending on the group composition. Camping is not allowed at Hoft Farm.

We will have many fresh foods and a varied menu, offering both vegetarian and non-vegetarian selections. Please be aware that we prepare meals for a group and cannot accommodate all individual preferences or extremely restrictive diets. We ask that you discuss any dietary restrictions with the leader in advance. Each person will help cook and clean up at least one day of the trip. The Hoft Farm has a fully equipped kitchen, and all meals (except for packed lunches and one meal out) will be served at the farm.

Trip Difficulty

Work projects will vary from light-duty to strenuous. Each participant will work at his or her own pace and endurance level. We expect to work one full six-hour day and three partial days.

Equipment and Clothing

The weather is usually comfortable in early October, but prepare for a range of warm to quite chilly temperatures. Bring clothing you can layer on or off when the temperature or exercise level changes. Rain gear is essential, as we will work in light to moderate rain (but not in storms or high winds). Poison ivy is common, so protective clothing is advisable. Technu will be in ample supply. A detailed equipment list will be provided before the trip.


  • Schneider, P., The Enduring Shore: A History of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket.
  • Friary, N. and Bendure, G., Walks and Rambles on Cape Cod and the Islands.
  • Brooks, G., Caleb's Crossing.
  • Oldale, R.N., Cape Cod and the Islands: The Geologic Story.
  • Wessels, T., Reading the Forested Landscape.
  • Cronon, W., Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England.
  • Newcomb, L., Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.


While visitors strive to experience the island's beauty, in recent years the disappearance of open space and rare species has accelerated alarmingly due to the demand for development -- mostly large luxury homes. With this sobering thought in mind, we will assist The Nature Conservancy staff with the restoration of rare and endangered coastal sandplain native species and habitats. Projects may entail harvesting seeds from TNC’s Native Plant Nursery at Hoft Farm, removing invasive species, and planting native species. TNC staff will provide talks about the purpose and methodologies of their conservation projects.

While working on TNC projects and during our stay on Martha’s Vineyard, we will follow Leave No Trace protocols.



Mary Alice Smith joined the Sierra Club in 2002, following a trip to Yosemite National Park. A service trip in 2009 sparked her interest in becoming a Sierra Club national leader to share her love of nature. Growing up in rural Georgia, she developed a deep affinity for the environment while roaming the woods and fields. Favorite activities include hiking in her home state of Rhode Island, bird watching, biking, kayaking, yoga and going to hear folk and roots musicians perform at live concerts. She assisted on the Martha’s Vineyard trip in 2010 and served as Vineyard trip leader in 2011 and 2012.

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