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Monday, July 7, 2008 - 12:00pm by Lolo
0 miles and 0 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay
The town of Chilmark is probably one of the most beautiful on the island, with its long rambling stone fences and rolling hills overlooking the sea. It’s more of a residential and agricultural community than a touristy one, so we really haven’t done too much in Chilmark, with the exception of driving through it and appreciating its lovely scenery and feeling a bit envious towards anyone fortunate enough to own a home here. Actually, you don’t really see the houses – just the long winding driveways leading towards the sea. It’s the home of the rich and the famous and the place where presidents come to relax.
One of my favorite viewpoints on the drive through Chilmark is along the South Road. Just about a mile past Beetlebung corner, there is a bridge, with Nashaquitsa Pond on the right and Stonewall Pond on the left. I describe a kayaking trip we took on these two ponds in the Aquinnah stop. About a tenth of a mile after the bridge, the road heads up a hill. Halfway up the hill, there is a wide spot on the side of the road called Quitsa Overlook. From there you can look out over Nashaquitsa and Menemsha ponds and beyond to Menemsha and the Vineyard Sound. One evening when returning from Moshup Beach, Herb and I were lucky enough to catch a beautiful sunset over the ponds.
Menemsha is one of my favorite places on the island, and one where we have spent many wonderful times. This quaint little fishing village is so picture postcard perfect that it seems more fake than real. In fact, it was used as a stage set during the filming of the movie Jaws.
I love walking along Dutcher Dock watching the fishermen unload their daily catch of tuna, swordfish, halibut, striped bass, bluefish, and lobster from their weather-beaten fishing boats. It’s a great place to pick up some very fresh seafood at one of the fish markets along the dock.
Its location on the northwest part of the island makes Menemsha a perfect place to watch the sunset over the waters of Vineyard Sound. Before we began bringing the RV to the island, we used to come to Menemsha at least once each trip to watch the sunset. Every night is a party in Menemsha as crowds gather on the small swimming beach to watch and cheer as the sun dips below the horizon.
Since we started bringing the RV to the island, we have switched our sunset viewing to Lobsterville Beach, just across the channel from Menemsha. Menemsha is just too crowded to find parking for the RV. I kind of like this better because this way we can gaze at and admire Menemsha from across the channel.
Over the years, we also have done a lot of fishing from the Menemsha rock jetty, which is usually pretty crowded with fisherman trying to land a blue or striper. We have had our fair share of success over the years with many a blue or striper at the end of our lines.
I remember coming to the Vineyard once in October before Herb and I were married. We came down to Menemsha to watch the sunset and do some fishing. We didn’t have much money then, so we were going to cook dinner on Herb’s camping stove on the jetty. I was not exactly a very good cook then – not that I am that great now – but I was particularly inexperienced at the time. I did not understand the concept of how much rice expands when you cook it. Before I knew it, I had enough rice to feed a family of 10 and it was bubbling over the pot onto the jetty. I think that is when Herb realized he wanted to marry me. Somebody had to do it.
There was about a six-year period where we used to bring our 20-foot Grady White to the island with us. On two of our circumnavigations of the island, we cruised through the channel to explore Menemsha Pond. A couple of times, we anchored and swam to the Lobsterville shoreline where an old dilapidated and abandoned fishing boat lay on its side. We later found out that this was a boat named Orca used in the filming of Jaws. There were two Orcas used in the movie, one for the motor scenes and one for the sinking scenes. This one, as might be obvious, was the one used for the sinking scenes, and it was left behind after the filming was complete. It was there for quite a few years, but I think it is gone now.
Menemsha is also home to the iconic Home Port Restaurant, whose portions are large enough to keep you fed for an entire week. Before RVing days, we always made it a point of coming here at least once on each visit. It’s not a fancy place, but rather a casual waterfront setting with a nautical feel. It has great seafood and no liquor license, so be sure to bring your own.
We have fond memories of bringing the kids here ever since they were babies. The place is noisy enough to not worry too much about kid behavior. However, one time Tommy, at the age of 2, managed to break through the noise and the chaos and shock the table of elderly women behind us. We had provided him with a blue marker to color the placemat and keep him busy. Without us seeing, he dipped his marker in his water glass, painted his entire mouth blue, stuck his fingers in the mouth stretching his lips apart, and yelled “Look at me, Look at me!!” to the blue-haired ladies behind us. They were not amused. We, however, were and tried our best to not burst out laughing as Herb carried Tommy out of the room to give him a talking to.
Anyway, I highly recommend the Home Port Restaurant.
One summer I decided to not just stick to our usual spots on the island – although they were really good – but to venture out and discover some new ones. That’s when I bought a book called Exploring Martha’s Vineyard by Bike, Foot, and Kayak. It has served me well and brought us to some really cool places, such as the Great Rock Bight Preserve on the northern Vineyard Sound side of Chilmark. Since the RV is not a good vehicle for exploring on the island, we used our bikes to get here from the campground.
The Great Rock Bight Preserve is a Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank property. The Land Bank is a very cool concept. Every time a real estate transfer occurs on the island, 2% of the sale goes into a fund which is used to acquire and manage open space for the public’s enjoyment. There are dozens of beautiful spots, some very tiny, some quite large, scattered throughout the island that have been obtained by the Land Bank. You can pick up a map of Land Bank properties at their office on Main Street in Edgartown.
Anyway, the 28.5-acre Great Rock Bight Preserve is an excellent example of one of these Land Bank properties that have been set aside for public enjoyment. It is located on the north side of the North Road, about 4 miles west of its intersection with State Road in West Tisbury, which was a pretty good, and hilly, ride from the campground. Once we arrived, we locked our bikes up at the trailhead and set out on the .8-mile Yellow Trail to the beach. The trail brought us to a bluff above the beach with tremendous views of Vineyard Sound and the Elizabeth Islands, as well as the “great rock” standing guard over the cove. We took the steep trail down to the beach, which for now we had totally to ourselves. My biggest regret was that I did not wear a bathing suit under my cycling shorts, because the water was inviting, and the rock would have been a great destination to swim to. Instead, we had to settle for watching another better-equipped family from London arrive, strip down to their bathing suits, and swim out to the rock. We even took a family photo of them standing out on the rock. That was supposed to be my family picture. Next time I would plan better.
Chilmark also shares Menemsha, Nashaquitsa, and Stonewall Ponds with the town of Aquinnah. One summer, Herb and I paddled our kayaks across all three of them for a really wonderful journey, which I have described in the Aquinnah stop, because technically we began it from Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah.
Chilmark is a small, rural community located on the western end (up-island) of Martha’s Vineyard. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the south, Aquinnah on the west, the Vineyard Sound in the north, and West Tisbury to the east.
Less touristy than the rest of the island, it is primarily a residential and agricultural community. With its rolling hills, rambling stone walls, and tall, leafy trees, it is more similar to a Vermont town than the other seaside towns on the island.
The center of town consists of a small schoolhouse, originally a one-room school built in 1850, a tiny post office, and a public library, which often serves as a gathering place for Chilmark’s 650 year-round residents. There is also a love 1843 church and the town hall, built in 1897. Another gathering spot for locals and summer visitors alike is the Chilmark Store, just down the road past Beetlebung Corner. Like Alley’s in West Tisbury, the rocking chairs on the porch are a place to gather for getting the local news and gossip.
Chilmark was settled by sheep farmers and mariners 300 years ago. A visible reminder of this past is the long stone walls running alongside the roads and through meadows and woods that were once fields for grazing.
Earning a livelihood from the sea also lives on in the quaint fishing village of Menemsha, where weathered fishing shacks, nets, buoys, and lobster pots line Dutcher Dock. There is much hustle and bustle in this active port as fisherman in big rubber boots unload their daily catch of tuna, swordfish, halibut, striped bass, bluefish, and lobster from their weather-beaten fishing vessels tied up at the docks. A walk down Dutcher Dock might seem familiar to those who have seen the movie Jaws, as this working fishing harbor served as a stage set for the film.
Menemsha Village lies on the eastern shore of Menemsha Pond where it flows out into Vineyard Sound. There is a small beach on the calm waters of Vineyard Sound that is great for families with children. Also, popular is surf casting on the rock jetty into the channel leading towards Menemsha Pond. However, what brings most people to Menemsha is the chance to eat some freshly cooked seafood and then watch the spectacular sunset over Vineyard Sound. During the summer, a small bike ferry transports cyclists the short distance across the channel between Menemsha and Lobsterville.
Chilmark shares several ponds, some of which it shares with neighboring towns: Chilmark Pond in the southeast part of town, Squibnocket and Menemsha Ponds to the southwest (shared with Aquinnah) and Tisbury Great Pond to the east (shared with West Tisbury). The only road to Aquinnah passes between Squibnocket and Menemsha Ponds, which are only 1,100 feet apart.
The town has several sanctuaries and preserves, the largest being the Menemsha Hills Reservation, a 211-acre preserve managed by the Trustees of the Reservation. It is located on the north side of North Road, one mile east of Menemsha Village. Three miles of hiking trails lead through wetlands and woodland groves and a climb to the top of the 308-foot Prospect Hill, the second highest point on the Vineyard.
Another interesting public property in Chilmark is the Great Rock Bight Preserve, a 28.5-acre Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank property with hiking trails and swimming at a secluded sandy cove on Vineyard Sound. The preserve gets its name from the “great rock” located a short, swimmable distance from the beach. The preserve is located on the north side of North Road, 3.8 miles west of its intersection with State Road in West Tisbury. From the parking area, one can go left and take the .5-mile Yellow Trail directly to the beach, or for the more adventurous hiker, the 1.5-mile Marl Pond Loop heads right from the parking area, through grasslands and past two ponds before meeting up with the Yellow Trail towards the beach. From the bluff above the beach there are tremendous views of Vineyard Sound and the Elizabeth Islands, as well as the “great rock” standing guard over the cove. A steep trail leads down to the swimming beach.
The Chilmark Pond Preserve is a Martha's Vineyard Landbank property with walking trails and a canoe/kayak launch site that allows for access to Lower Chilmark Pond. There is also a 200-feet beach accessible by canoe or kayak. A boardwalk and stairs lead from the pond to the beach.
There are 3 public beaches in Chilmark:
- Menemsha Public Beach – gentle beach on the Vineyard Sound next to Menemsha Harbor
- Chilmark Pond Preserve – 200-foot beach accessible by canoe or kayak
- Great Rock Bight Preserve – located off the North Road. The trail to the beach is long and steep and has stairs.
- Chilmark Pond
- Menemsha – Nashaquitsa – Stonewall Ponds
- Squibnocket Pond
Chilmark location map in "high definition"