, Newburyport, MA


January 3, 2014

Leading the way

Youngsters plan out exploration of Marblehead Neck sanctuary

What had been a stretch of dark and cloudy days with stiff, east winds finally let up for crisp and sunny weather, leaving in its wake an invitation to the coast. Responding in kind, my wife and I packed up our boys and headed to “The Neck.”

Offering a charming 18 acres of ledgy scrambles, creaky boardwalks and sheltered trails, Mass Audubon’s Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary provided a perfect place to burn off some holiday energy while reinforcing some newly learned map skills.

Arriving midafternoon to the sound of local kids running through the park, we gathered our trail maps and previewed our trip. Few maps are as wonderfully detailed and kid-friendly as those from Mass Audubon. Taking full advantage, we decided to follow our boys’ lead and allow them to plot our course and choose destinations.

With loud enthusiasm, they proclaimed that our walk would include a visit to Audubon Pond, Migration Overlook and Vireo Loop. Perfect choices! With maps in their hands, they guided us into the sanctuary, walking under a canopy of bare-branched red maple, birch and shagbark hickory. A small, tired stream trickled alongside as we made our way. Snow-frosted mushrooms and shriveled elderberry lined the mostly brown trail.

The boys ran ahead to the first of three intended stops: Audubon Pond.

Resting quietly near the west end of the park is Audubon Pond, which is a little kettle hole. Since the pond was frozen over from the recent stretch of cold, we took turns testing the ice for safety before exploring the shores. Brown grasses, cattails and tufts of moss-covered earth rose up through the ice and snow. Icy, slick duck slides (like tiny boat ramps) told of the bustle that the pond will see in three short months.

Continuing on to Warbler Trail, the kids led us up and over marbled granite outcroppings to Migration Overlook: the highest point in the sanctuary. Under low branches and up lichen-covered boulders, the trail offered more of a short scramble than a walking route. With views of the pond below and across the park, it was easy to see that the vantage would be fantastic during migration seasons.

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