Middle Moors


This unique area represents the largest expanse of undeveloped land on Nantucket. The Foundation owns 31 distinct and contiguous properties in this area, totaling over 3,220 acres of protected open space. There are three major areas which help comprise the Middle Moors: Altar Rock, the Serengeti and the Pout Ponds.

Altar Rock is one of the most dominant features in the Middle Moors. At 100 feet above sea level, it is the fourth highest elevation on the island (the highest is at 111 feet above sea level, located just south of Sankaty Head Light). On a clear day, this hilltop affords wonderful views of Polpis Harbor, Pocomo Head, Coatue, Great Point Light, Sankaty Head Light, ‘Sconset Village, and the surrounding heathlands. The building with the needle-like rooftop immediately to the west of Altar Rock is a navigational aid used by planes making their final approach to Nantucket Memorial Airport, located approximately 2 miles to the southeast.

The southern portion of the Middle Moors, bordering the Milestone Road, contains over 400 acres that is locally referred to as Nantucket’s “Serengeti.” The nickname comes from the low growing vegetation mixed with occasional trees. (the word “Serengeti” is derived from the Maasai language for “endless plain”) Wood cutouts of lions, gazelles, zebras, and the occasional raptor spontaneously appear in this area and can be viewed from Milestone Road.

The Pout Ponds are kettle hole ponds located in the western portion of the Middle Moors, Their name is a Native American word meaning “foot,” and legend has it that they are the depressions caused by the footprints of a giant that later filled with water.

There are many miles of intersecting roads and trails within the Middle Moors. There are numerous access points into the Middle Moors from both Polpis and Milestone Roads. To get to Altar Rock, head east on Polpis Road for approx 3 miles and then turn right onto Altar Rock Road. There is a small parking lot on the left-hand side just after you turn off or you can drive down the dirt road until reaching the navigational aid building. The Milestone Overlook trailhead and parking lot to access the Serengeti is located along the north edge of the Milestone Road near Milestone marker #5. Trail maps and information about the Serengeti area are available at the parking area. There are no facilities located anywhere among the Middle Moors

Maps & Trail Guides

Middle Moors Map
Serengeti Trail Guide

Altar Rock

The area immediately surrounding Altar Rock contains some of the best examples of coastal heathland habitat on Nantucket. This association of plants is characterized by low-growing shrubs such as huckleberry and low bush blueberry, interspersed with patches of Pennsylvania sedge, bearberry, reindeer moss and false heather. During the summer and fall, numerous species of goldenrods, asters, and other wild flowers dot the hillsides. The history of intensive sheep grazing in this area resulted in the removal of taller shrubs and trees, allowing these heathland species to become established without competition for sunlight and nutrients.

The Serengeti

The unique landscape of the Serengeti is shaped by the Foundation’s ongoing management aimed at restoring sandplain grasslands and heathlands. Historic photos of this site show large expanses of open grasslands created by sheep grazing during the 17 and 1800’s. Now that sheep no longer graze in the Middle Moors, brushcutting and prescribed burning are being used to perpetuate habitat for rare species and prevent tall shrubs, scrub oak and trees from encroaching.

The Pout Ponds

Scattered across the Middle Moors are many small wetland depressions that were created during the last glacial era. Large blocks of ice that were left behind after the ice sheet retreated to the north formed hollows in the landscape as they slowly melted. Ponds and bogs formed in such a manner are called kettle holes, and are characterized by having no inflowing or outflowing streams. Instead, the water level in the depression that forms the kettle hole is influenced by the ground water and the amount of rainfall.

Each of the ponds hosts distinctive vegetation communities that are influenced by their depth and fluctuating water levels. The northernmost pond, known as the Donut Pond, provides an excellent example of the transformation from pond to bog. The open water is limited to a donut-shaped moat around its perimeter, while the center contains Sphagnum moss and other characteristic bog plants. The moat is maintained by rainwater running down the adjacent hillside and collecting at the edge of the bog. The middle pond is very shallow and probably does not intersect the water table. Therefore, the vegetation growing along its shoreline is adapted to being seasonally flooded or exposed, depending on the amount of rainfall received. Conversely, the water level of the southernmost pond is deeper and does not fluctuate as dramatically, probably because it is more influenced by the water table than by surface runoff from rainfall.

H. Jerome Ayers, Abby A. Ayers & Alicia Heller
Richard A. Beckwith
Walter Beinecke, Jr.
Juliet W. Bischoff
The Conatum Trust
Arthur Dean
Brenda K. Giegerich
Mr. & Mrs. Lester R. Giegerich
Mr. & Mrs J. Seward Johnson, Jr.
Mr. & Mrs. Timothy King
Louis C. Krauthoff II
Tabitha T. Krauthoff
Margaret Z. Larsen
Roy E. Larsen
The Larsen Fund
Scott Maclain
The Maria Mitchell Association
Mrs. Alfred S. Mills
Leeds Mitchell, Jr.
The Nantucket Ornithological Association
The Open Land Fund Mr.
Mrs. Robert L. Page
Mr. & Mrs. Lawrence Richardson, Jr.
Marsha G. Torkelson
Mrs. Burr P. Wilson