Land trust celebrates the new year with walks, campfires

Jan 1, 2021

Who needs ritzy New Year’s Eve parties?

A small group gathered in the lowering dusk at Destruction Brook Woods on New Year’s Eve to ring in 2021 their own way: With a quiet walk and a socially distanced campfire.

Instead of the large annual New Year’s Day walk, Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust led five walks on five different properties on the last night of the year to limit the number of people at any one place, according to DNRT Development and Outreach Specialist Kendra Murray.

“We were just trying to do something different,” she said. “We’ve been so limited with how many people we can have at walks.”

Murray said that the walks filled up “immediately,” probably in part because people don’t have parties to go to this year due to the pandemic.

“It’s just something to do on New Year’s Eve,” she noted. “It’s just a nice way to close out the year.”

A nearby couple, Karen Rymsha and Ron Ponte of Dartmouth, agreed.

“Obviously you have to think of alternative ways to celebrate,” said Rymsha. “We just thought it’d be a fun way to be with people safely, to do something that’s fun and interesting, a little out of the box.”

“We’re thrilled to be here,” she added. “We absolutely love the walks, and Destruction Brook is our favorite.”

Murray led the hour-long walk through the darkening woods, pointing out unusual trees and other landmarks before night really fell, then leading the way back to a fire pit for some socially distanced s’mores.

Although the local land trust had to cancel its usual events in 2020, according to Murray, interest has never been higher. 

She said the organization added over 200 new members and hit its funding goal of $40,000 — even without its traditional Barn Bash fundraiser.

“It’s honestly been a really great year for DNRT,” Murray said. “People have realized how much they need nature.”

In 2021, the land trust will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“It’s a huge year for us,” Murray said. Plans include holding a reserve retrospective, guided tours of all properties — not just the ones open to the public — and potentially a ‘Birthday Bash.’

“What that would look like is still to be determined,” she noted. “It’s kind of one day at a time.”

“With this pandemic, we started doing at least 3-4 walks a week in March when everything shut down,” said Rymsha. “I’m 69, and I’d never noticed how beautiful the greening of spring can’s this whole new mindfulness, recognition of how beautiful nature is.”

New Bedford resident David Sullivan — recently returned to the area after a spell in Florida — just became a DNRT member this past fall in order to “get out and get as much exercise as possible,” he said.

Sullivan also joined some volunteer work parties to help the land trust clear brush and trails.

Outdoor activities are “always important,” he said, “But this year people need to get out. One of the best defenses against disease is good health!”

“You go out of your mind getting stuck at home,” he added.

The guided walk participants weren’t the only ones on the trail, as other walkers came and went at the popular property.

“We come here all the time,” said Michelle Sturtevant, who was walking with daughter Sarah and their two-year-old dog Tessie. “It’s our new Covid hobby that we picked up this year, walking the trails. It’s all there is to do!”

The mood was peaceful as the walkers slowly wandered back to the fire, flashlights in hand, to toast some marshmallows.

“It was wonderful,” said Rymsha of the evening. “It was everything I wanted it to be.”

As for the last night of 2020, Murray said with a laugh, “I think this is going to be kind of a quiet, reflective end of the year. Let’s let it go.”