5. Penni’s Path in the Matty Matthiessen Wildlife Sanctuary
This trail is named for the late Penelope C. Sharp, a life-long seasonal resident of Fishers Island who served as the Museum’s president for 11 years (2003-2014). She was an accomplished botanist, an avid birder, and a fully-engaged environmentalist who generously shared her expertise with those around her.
To reach this trail, park in the Driving Range parking lot. The entrance to the trail is across the Recreation Path from the small building that houses the restroom for the range.
This wonderful path loops through four different vegetative areas and the transition zones between them. It affords the hiker the opportunity to view a wide variety of plants, birds, and wildlife. The trail begins along the western edge of the Driving Range, where it ranges through a young successional maritime forest of Black Oak, Red Maple, and Black Cherry. The understory of Arrowwood, Nannyberry, Bush Honeysuckle, and grasses contains a spur trail to the right, that opens to views of Island Pond. As you continue south along the main trail, the vegetation transitions to a successional shrub thicket dominated by scattered Black Cherry, Staghorn Sumac, and Bush Honeysuckle. Here additional side trails provide access to Island Pond at water level, while the surrounding area changes to maritime shrubland, with Northern Bayberry beginning to dominate. The main trail then enters the maritime grassland with its abundant wildflowers. At its borders, Northern Bayberry and Winged, Smooth, and Staghorn sumacs attempt to colonize the grassland. Each of the offshoots on the right will yield interesting vistas at the water’s edge. On warm days, the first turnoff is an excellent place to observe dragonflies. The clear water makes it easy to see small fish and the Eastern Oysters growing on the rocks. Shortly before the osprey nest, the trail forks right, providing additional views of Beach Pond. At low tide, a large variety of shorebirds usually convene on the bar at the west end of the pond, near where Island Pond connects to Block Island Sound.
Follow signs to continue on Penni’s Path as it winds through the grassland and returns to the forest just south of the Driving Range. Enjoy wildflowers, Common Milkweed, ferns, and butterflies as you move toward the trees. Search the sky above as there are often Red-tailed Hawks soaring high over the grasslands hunting for rabbits, mice, and voles. This is an area where a keen observer will notice scat and other signs of animal activity. During the heat of the day there are often Northern Black Racers and Eastern Garter Snakes sunning themselves on the trail.