Hiking in the Moonlight

Ipswich, MA—Scott Santino, 36, remembers how loud it was last March when he led a group of hikers through the wetlands.

“The peepers were so loud you could barely hear anything else,” said Santino. “But we were lucky enough to hear a faint hoot from an owl in the background.”

Santino works for Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary as a Sanctuary Naturalist. Last year the sanctuary hosted a Full Moon Hike once a month. The next two-hour hike, “Vernal Pools Under the Full Worm Moon” will take place, Wednesday, March 27 at 6:30 pm and is located in the Sanctuary. Cost is $14 for members and $16 for those who aren’t.

Santino started the program after being inspired by similar events at other sanctuaries he’s come into contact with. The name of each hike is the Native American name for each month’s full moon. Santino says that he tries to incorporate a theme with each hike. A few of the participants have been “regulars” so Santino tries to make sure that each walk includes a variety of new elements.

“We get both male and female hikers,” said Santino. “A lot of people are from Essex, and we even get a couple of people from the metro Boston area.”

The one thing that all of Santino’s participants have in common, though, is that they are active adults interested in the natural terrain of the region. And that’s just as he likes it; when he started working full time for Mass Audubon in 2001, one of his first responsibilities was to bring in an adult audience.

But there are also opportunities for children to experience nature as well. Andrew Prazar, 34, is the education coordinator at the Sanctuary. He started in September of 2010, and works with family programs, after school groups and develops curriculum for home school programs. Prazar started full moon hikes for children and their families last winter.

“The purpose of the family program is to help connect people with nature,” said Prazar.

Prazar’s hikes usually have 35 to 40 participants who average from five to ten years old and are accompanied by an adult. The 2,000 acre sanctuary has a variety of habitats, and though most times he covers about half a mile, Prazar tries to incorporate all the habitats into his hikes.

Santino finds that the number of programs drop in the winter due to the weather conditions, and Prazar had to cancel a hike in January because of freezing temperatures and harsh winds. Still, neither Prazar nor Santino say they’ve face any dangers on these hikes. In fact, Prazar claimed that the most dangerous thing could be walking around without a light.

Both, of course, encourage hikers to do just that. Santino carries a lantern in his backpack in case of emergencies, and both allow artificial lights on their hikes, but they feel the experience—and the moonlight—is more pure without the help of a flashlight.

“When there’s snow outside and there’s a full moon the whole world sort of glows,” said Prazar.

Published on boston.com on March 7th, 2013

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