Sheriff's Meadow welcomes new exec director
Amid an occasional distant rumble of thunder and sprinkle of rain, the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation board Thursday officially welcomed new executive director Adam Moore.
The setting was lovely Quansoo Farm in Chilmark, a property emblematic of the Island conservation organization's mission and representative of its future course, as described by Mr. Moore in his remarks.
Under an awning set up in an expansive field with Black Point Pond beyond, board members and invited guests greeted Mr. Moore, his wife Melissa, and their four young children, ages one through 11 years of age.
It was the first opportunity for many board members and Sheriff's Meadow supporters to meet Mr. Moore, who began work in May. There was no honeymoon period for Mr. Moore.
Even before he had hung the first picture on the wall of his new office or moved his family to the Vineyard, he was forced to respond to a potentially damaging controversy, generated by a series of stories and editorials in the Vineyard Gazette.
The Edgartown newspaper reported that Sheriff's Meadow allowed a landscaper to "strip mine" plants from its properties for the benefit of a wealthy West Tisbury landowner, in violation of state regulations. The newspaper asserted that the conservation organization had violated the public trust and insinuated that the landowner's donations and wealth had influenced the Foundation.
The uproar left Sheriff's Meadow officials reeling and on the defensive. In public and private letters and numerous conversations, Foundation officials explained that the meadow supposedly strip mined did not belong to Sheriff's Meadow; that there was no prior arrangement between the Foundation and the landowner; and that the practice of allowing landscape contractors to remove unwanted trees and vegetation in exchange for work was in keeping with longstanding conservation goals and management plans.
On Thursday Mr. Moore was surrounded by well wishers. They offered support, advice, and encouragement as he works to repair what many acknowledged was the damage done to the organization, which is still waiting to see what action state conservation officials will take in response to Sheriff's Meadow's failure to properly file a description of the work done on two of its properties.
Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Stephen Crampton, SMF president, introduced Mr. Moore to the invited guests. He said one concern involved in finding the right person for the job was whether his or her spouse would agree to move to Martha's Vineyard. In this case, he said, "Adam was being pushed by his wife Melissa."
It is doubtful she had to push very hard. In February 1998, the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank hired Mr. Moore, who received a master's degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in 1995, to be the public land conservation agency's land superintendent. He left that job for his home state of Connecticut late in 2001 to become the executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, the oldest private nonprofit environmental organization in Connecticut. But he always hoped to return to the Vineyard, he said.
In his remarks, an ebullient Mr. Moore said he and his wife were very excited to be back on the Vineyard. He thanked people for the warm welcomes he had received since his return. Mr. Moore described a teenage encounter with a horse in an open meadow that two years later had houses on it. That experience, he said, left an indelible mark that taught him the value of conservation.
Mr. Moore thought about law school and worked for a time in Manhattan, but ultimately decided to pursue a career in land stewardship. He said he and his staff have begun working on a management plan for Quansoo Farm that will include a public walking trail tied to the recent co-operative agreement signed between the foundation and the Land Bank.
"It will be a wonderful, beautiful property, well managed," said Mr. Moore. He said the management plan would incorporate ecological, agricultural, and community points of view - themes that, he said, would guide a review of all Foundation properties totaling more than 2,000 acres.
"I am interested in looking at all the Sheriff's Meadow properties from those points of view," he said, "ecological, agricultural, and community. I think there is such a great opportunity to connect Sheriff's Meadow more to the community, and I an excited to be able to do that."
The Island Grown initiative and the expanding network of walking trails across the Island are natural connections, he said. "With so much land under our stewardship there is a great opportunity to be a part of that."
Mr. Moore promised change in an organization that has changed little over the years. "I think the greatest thing nonprofits can do, the things that may them really great, is to take risks, to take deliberate, calculated risks, and I look forward to doing that with Sheriff's Meadow," he said.
Mr. Moore invoked the name of Henry Beetle Hough, former editor and publisher of the Vineyard Gazette who began the foundation in 1959 with the proceeds from a magazine story he sold, and later raised more money to save other properties. Mr. Hough took a risk other bigger organizations were not interested in at the time said Mr. Moore. "I am looking forward to moving ahead boldly with all of you."
Not present Thursday was former executive director Dick Johnson, who held the position for 17 years until this spring, when he stepped down from his administrative post to fill the newly created position of restoration ecologist.
Mr. Johnson was responsible for overseeing plans to remove plants and trees from the 61-acre Priscilla Hancock Meadow located off South Road in Chilmark and The Caroline Tuthill Preserve, a 150-acre property located near the Triangle in Edgartown and for properly notifying the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program about the work that would be done on the properties.
The controversy that engulfed Sheriff's Meadow also engulfed Mr. Johnson. On Thursday, Mr. Crampton confirmed that Mr. Johnson no longer worked for Sheriff's Meadow and that the parting was amicable, but he declined to provide any more explanation about what he described as a personnel matter.
Reached at his home by The Times, Mr. Johnson said he preferred not to comment.