, Newburyport, MA

March 21, 2014

Walking on the wilder side

Crane Estate offers tours of refuge trails in Ipswich

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — Mention the Crane Estate, and most people think of the great house on Castle Hill in Ipswich with its ornate woodcarvings, sterling-silver fixtures and well-manicured grounds.

But there’s a wild side to this Trustees of Reservations property, which will be the focus of a new series of Crane Outdoor Adventures programs, including a “Stop, Look and Listen Tour” tomorrow.

“I love to be outdoors,” said Dorothy Antczak, field education program manager at the Crane Estate. “If I go to a place, my inclination is not to explore in the house, but to go outside and explore.”

The estate is divided into three regions: Castle Hill, Crane Beach and Crane Wildlife Refuge. The new programs will focus on the habitats crossed by trails in the refuge.

“We have marsh, beach and dunes,” Antczak said.

Each of these environments will be visited in tomorrow’s program, which will finish with hot cocoa served beside a bonfire.

“We’ll take the Cedar Point loop out toward the marsh,” Antczak said. “The trail walks past the marsh and out to the beach.”

The tour will approach this landscape as having a story to tell that visitors can learn how to read.

“What we’d like to be looking for are tracks and things,” Antczak said. “You can tell if you see fox tracks and bird tracks and kill tracks — that’s an obvious story in landscape. Or tracks widely spaced mean something running, so look behind for other tracks chasing.”

The Crane Estate has hosted previous outdoor programs, including kayak tours of Choate Island in Essex Bay. These will continue, and kayak tours on Fox Creek will be added, but they will be complemented by new programs throughout the year, Antczak said.

This weekend’s nature walk will be held in the afternoon and is free for adults, to encourage them to bring their children.

Trustees of Reservations staff are always looking for ways to encourage people to use their properties, said Antczak, who previously led nature programs for Kestrel Educational Adventures. She is also motivated by a desire to wean youngsters off their smartphones, by immersing them in nature.

“They’re so tuned in to their electronic devices now, they aren’t attuned to their environment,” she said. “I’m hoping it becomes a family affair, so when they go home, they can talk about it and be likely to go out and do it again.”

A scavenger hunt at Hamlin Reservation, another Trustees of Reservations property on Argilla Road, will also be free for adults.

“That is mostly for smaller kids,” Antczak said. “It’s a nature-based scavenger hunt, and it will entail three different kinds of plants and two different kinds of weeds and finding a place where an invasive species is growing.”

The new adventure programs should help everyone, even those who have been visiting the Crane Estate for years, to see the property in a new light. For example, those who go to the beach in summer, when the sun is high and the water is warm, may appreciate the “Full Moon and Folklore Hike” from 8 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15.

Another evening program, “Spying on Spring Peepers” on Saturday, April 12, will visit vernal pools that collect among Crane’s dunes, to listen for the tiny but highly vocal spring frogs. These creatures have been threatened by development on the North Shore, but a Cape Ann group has formed to keep track of their habitat, Antczak said.

Several seasons of dry weather took a toll on a number of the pools, but she expects a full chorus of frogs for the April program at Crane.

“I’ve already gone out tramping around,” Antczak said. “The water’s there. It’s frozen right now.”


What: “Stop, Look and Listen Tour”

When: Tomorrow, 1 to 3 p.m.

Where: Crane Estate, 290 Argilla Road, Ipswich

How much: Free for adults, $8 for children

More information: To register, call Dorothy Antczak at 978-356-4351, ext. 4052, or 978-810-5892; email; or visit