Great Rock Bight Preserve offers the opportunity to sample a variety of habitats in a quiet, secluded preserve that makes the experience all the more magical. Located just east of well-known Menemsha Hills and The Brickyard, the preserve is reached via Brickyard Road, a narrow, dirt lane that runs about a half-mile to the parking area.
The beach at Great Rock Bight features a large boulder (a glacial erratic) just beyond the surf that gives the place its name, and it offers a quarter-mile stretch of sand that is just perfect for lazing away a sunny afternoon. Sit back and gaze out over the brilliant blue waters of Vineyard Sound toward the Elizabeth Islands or try your hand at casting for stripers. If the water is warm, it’s a great place for a swim, though be aware that there is no lifeguard on duty here. This also may be the best spot anywhere on the island to watch the sunset, as long as you head back up the trail to your car quickly before night falls.
The preserve includes fields that were once owned by Rebecca Cooper, an African American woman who lived on the island in the 18th century and for whom a commemorative plaque has been placed alongside the trail. It is the first stop on the Martha’s Vineyard African American Heritage Trail, which was established in 1998.
The roughly two miles of trails at Great Rock Bight make for pleasant walking–wide, graceful, and relatively smooth (download trail map). The path toward the beach turns rocky as it descends toward the shore, with several sections of steps to reach the sand. While the hill is steep in a few spots, it is a relatively brief section, with an overlook at which you can pause and savor the views of the Sound.
The reserve also harbors a series of small ponds that can be reached via a half-mile loop trail. The path to the ponds begins with a gently winding track through open meadowlands. Marl Pond, the easternmost of the property’s chain of ponds, is of special interest: its natural acidity was used to preserve the baskets and hemp ropes of early settlers.
Habitats & Wildlife
The reservation includes mixed oak woods, open grass fields, and coastal shrublands. From the trailhead, the main path winds through a carefully managed woodland of specimen trees, hollies, and open meadow. The ponds host populations of rare clam shrimp, which are the only places where they have been documented on the island.
The land bank is an independent public authority dedicated to preserving open space for the benefit of the entire Martha’s Vineyard community.