Allen Reinhard celebrates thirty years as a Middle Moors ranger.
If you happen to find the best gig on Nantucket, you keep it. Maybe even for thirty years. Island resident Allen Reinhard recently completed his third decade as the Middle Moors ranger for the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. It’s a dream job that keeps him on patrol in some of the island’s most stunning and pristine conservation areas, discovering and cutting new trails, and helping others experience Nantucket’s great outdoors.
“That’s why I’ve spent thirty years doing it,” Reinhard said with a smile, sitting in the Middle Moors ranger station known as Heath House, where he resides from May through October. The rustic cabin, with its incredible views of the moors, Sankaty Head Lighthouse and the Atlantic Ocean, is just another perk of the job. Reinhard fondly recalled the day he first moved in after taking the position with the Conservation Foundation so many years ago. “I’m thinking, ‘Wow, they’re going to pay me to live out here?’ I saw the view and it was just spectacular. I said, ‘Hey, life is sweet.’ That’s how I got started.”
Reinhard was hired in 1991 by former Nantucket Conservation Foundation President Jim Lentowski, who wanted the organization to have a presence on its sprawling properties. The Middle Moors include 3,220 acres of coastal heathland, sandplain grasslands and kettle ponds that make up the largest tract of undeveloped land on Nantucket. After thirty years of exploring every hill, valley, pond and deer trail, Reinhard knows this vast area better than anyone.
On spring and summer mornings, Reinhard can be found leading the “Mornings for Members” guided walks through the foundation’s various properties. The program became so popular that reservations are now required, and foundation members can book only one walk per year. “The point is to get people to explore,” Reinhard said. “We had members coming here all their lives since they were kids and had never been into these properties. They say, ‘I had no idea!’ And that’s the exact kind of reaction we want.”
Being the Middle Moors ranger comes with certain mundane aspects—cleaning up the leftovers of the inevitable high school parties or shooing away the occasional person camping illegally. But for Reinhard, the joy of the job is found not only in sharing his knowledge of Nantucket’s hidden conservation areas with the public, but also in discovering and cutting new paths for people to enjoy. According to Reinhard, over the years he has cut and laid out more than thirty distinct walking paths through the moors and other foundation properties.
“Living out here, you just want to be out and walking the roads,” he said. “Every time I saw a deer trail, I would look to see where all the old roads were around it, and I would go in and take my loppers and trim it out. When I finally got a walk-behind mower, that was really what turned me loose so I could groom these trails.”
Originally from Oberlin, Ohio, Reinhard first came to Nantucket at the invitation of his best friend in high school. During the summer of 1961, the island “was a very different place. We had a ball.” He returned the following summer, lining up jobs at The Sandpiper restaurant and Snow’s Cycle Shop on Main Street. Reinhard would work during the day at the busy bike rental shop and cook at nights at The Sandpiper. The next year, he took over as manager of Snow’s Cycle Shop, a position he would hold for the next ten years before buying the small business himself in 1972. Over the next decade, Reinhard would open his shop on Nantucket from Memorial Day to Labor Day and return to New York in the off-season where he taught high school English.
When he finally decided to move to Nantucket on a year-round basis in November 1990, Reinhard was coming to the end of his second marriage, taking a year off and looking for what was next. That’s when he got the call from Lentowski about the newly created Middle Moors ranger position.
Among his initial assignments was familiarizing himself with all of the foundation’s properties, whether they were directly under his supervision in the moors or not. One of the first places he went was Squam Swamp. At the time, the foundation had recently completed its acquisition of the property, which was originally announced in 1983. When Reinhard began to explore it nearly a decade later, the vast wetland was marked only by a few narrow deer trails and small hunting trails. His initial exploration of the swamp ended the same way it did for many others who decided to venture through its hardwood forests, bogs and vernal pools.
“I ended up getting totally lost and over on Squam Road,” he said. “But I thought, ‘My god, what an incredible property.’ I had been coming to Nantucket for thirty years and thought it wasn’t like anything I’d seen. I told Jim [Lentowski] it would be a great place for some trails.” Today, Squam Swamp is one of the foundation’s most popular destinations and features a 1.75-mile trail loop with numbered way-finding posts keyed to an interpretive map.
The Middle Moors ranger job keeps Reinhard well occupied from May through October. During the offseason, however, he’s managed to stay busy as something of an island renaissance man. The father and grandfather has also served as a caregiver, painted houses and done landscaping, worked in the restaurant business and had a fifteen-year stint working with HyLine Cruises on Straight Wharf. He has also been heavily involved in the local government, serving on a host of boards and committees including the Cemetery Commission, the Roads and Right of Way Committee, the Nantucket Water Commission, the Town Government Study Committee and the Nantucket Civic League. In April 2007, Reinhard was the top vote-getter in a field of five candidates vying for seats on the Nantucket Board of Selectmen (now known as the Select Board), the island’s lead policymaking body. He served three years as a Selectman, but it is his ongoing service on another island commission that might be even more consequential.
Reinhard is now in his seventeenth year as an elected member of the Nantucket Land Bank, the five-member body that decides how to spend the island’s 2 percent transfer tax on real estate sales to acquire land for open space and agricultural and recreational uses. His dual roles as Conservation Foundation ranger and Land Bank commissioner have given Reinhard a unique and global perspective on the island’s network of conservation properties and organizations, allowing him to see opportunities where others may not.
“I look at the island as being a puzzle, like a jigsaw puzzle, with these different pieces of land,” Reinhard said. “When I first got on the Land Bank, I asked the new GIS [Geographic Information Systems] Department to print me out a map of the island with the different conservation properties on it, with the roads and public/private ways on the island. It ended up as four great big sheets they pulled up, and I could look and say, ‘Here’s some possibilities,’ both for properties for the Land Bank to look at, but also to see where trails could connect. In my mind, it’s all tied together. That’s been one of the wonderful things about this job.”
As he enters his fourth decade with the Conservation Foundation, Reinhard has no immediate plans to step away from his post as Middle Moors ranger. And why would he? There are only a few job hazards—he’s come down with Lyme disease a few times—and most of the heavy duty trail maintenance is now taken care of by his colleagues at the foundation. After thirty years, the biggest challenge, Reinhard has found, is not getting too upset when visitors don’t treat the properties with the same reverence he does. “That’s the only downside of the job—I get upset when I see someone going off-road [and potentially damaging the land],” he said. After all this time, these areas feel like part of his family. “I have a great sense of proprietary about these places.”