Hours: Dawn to Dusk
The more than 100 acres of the Middle Road Sanctuary are found on two separate parcels of land connected by a trail easement across private property. The Sanctuary is located on the terminal moraine which marks the farthest advance of the last glacier roughly 18,000 years ago. Steep ridges and valleys betray the glacial origins of the Sanctuary, as do the numerous erratics, large rocks left behind as the ice sheet retreated. While the steep ridges make for relatively strenuous hiking, the views of Chilmark Great Pond, Black Point Pond and Tisbury Great Pond from the King’s Highway end of the yellow trail provide a fitting reward.
Middle Road Sanctuary is predominantly a mixed deciduous woodland, consisting largely of black, white and scarlet oaks with scattered beeches, sassafras and red maples. The understory is primarily huckleberry, although there is also a great deal of viburnum and sweet pepperbush. A red maple swamp dominates the southwest corner, with sphagnum moss, skunk cabbage and various wetlands shrubs, including viburnum, maleberry, sweet pepper bush, highbush blueberry, swamp azalea and poison sumac. Along the ridge top and straddling the trail, a small heathland supports plants more typical of sandplain habitats: little bluestem, sweetfern, rockroses, pinweeds, golden heather and reindeer lichen. On the edges of the trails grow a number of plants typical of open, sunny spots including goldenrods, aster and bluettes.
Common birds include typical woodland species such as chickadee; white breasted nuthatch, great crested flycatcher, rufous-sided towhee and hairy, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers. Ovenbirds and wood thrush probably nest in the Sanctuary since several males have been heard singing during the breeding season. Red-tailed hawks are seen regularly and probably nest in the area, and turkey vultures have been seen.
The walking trails are shown on a map at the edge of the parking lot and are marked by paint blazes. The red trail is a 0.6-mile loop that runs up and across a hillside, along a ridge and back down the hill to complete the circle. The mile-long yellow trail leaves the red trail, continues along the ridge, swings down the opposite hillside, continues up and over a second ridge and ends at the King’s Highway. From there walkers can retrace their steps to the red trail. For those desiring a longer walk, turn left on the King’s Highway and follow it to Meetinghouse Road. Another left turn takes you back to Middle Road and a final left along the edge of Middle Road completes the loop back to the parking lot.
Winter is a wonderful time to walk the Middle Road Sanctuary. With the leaves off the trees it is possible to really see the lay of the land and one can almost sense the force of the massive glaciers which created it. During winter, small evergreens such as teaberry, spotted wintergreen and round-leaved pyrola are more obvious, a welcome scattering of color. In April and May, before the trees leaf out, spring ephemerals like trailing arbutus, Canada mayflower and wild geranium open their delicate blossoms. In June and July, a few spectacular pink lady slipper orchids bloom along the red trail. Middle Road Sanctuary also provides excellent habitat for white-tailed deer. Although the deer themselves are rarely encountered, their trails and pellets are common.
A bike rack, small parking area and trail map are located on the south side of Middle Road, not far from the intersection with Tabor House Road. From down Island, take the Pan Handle Road to Middle Road and head towards Chilmark for roughly 2.5 miles. Look for Meetinghouse Road on your left. The Sanctuary parking lot, also on your left, is about 0.4 mile past the intersection with Meetinghouse Road. From up Island, take Middle Road heading east from Beetlebung Corner. Look for Tabor House Road on your left; the parking lot will be on your right, 0.2 mile past the intersection. The entrance to the parking area is marked by a green and white "Middle Road Sanctuary" sign.