Getting out into it

Getting out into it

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It is not easy to go on vacation without having some impact on the environment. Basic necessities make it virtually impossible. But there are ways to control and limit our carbon footprint while still enjoying traveling and being on vacation. And you can have fun, explore, and get some good exercise in the process. This is the goal of West Tisbury native Erik VanLandingham, who last year started Martha’s Vineyard Eco Adventures, a local kayak tour and fishing business.

M.V. Eco takes a low-impact approach to tourism and adventure with the goal of providing a unique outdoor experience powered solely by the human being. With over 20 kayaks at their disposal, M.V. Eco offers guided tours of the Island’s most beautiful areas — from Edgartown Great Pond to the Gay Head cliffs. Kayak-fishing tours are available in both fresh and salt water, and private lessons and gear rentals are also offered.

The tours are open to people of all skill levels. Included with basic kayak instruction, there is a heavy focus on group and individual safety as well as the practice of “leave-no-trace” ethics. In addition to the kayaking and kayak instruction, groups are introduced to native eco-systems, wildlife identification, and local history. “We want to give people a great time,” VanLandingham says, “but we also want to teach them something that they can take with them and hopefully apply and use when they visit other places.”

Along with a low-impact approach, VanLandingham offers a view of the Island from a unique vantage point: the kayak. It is this creative approach, allowing people to be both active and engaged, that has led M.V. Eco to success. It also proves that there is nothing more valuable that a native’s love and knowledge of the Vineyard when it comes to seeing and learning about the Island.

“It is a great way to see the Island, you really see it from a different perspective,” says Mustafa Abdelbaky of New Jersey, a tourist who recently went on a M.V. Eco tour. “And [VanLandingham] is an amazing guide and you can tell he’s very passionate about the Island. He taught us a lot about the Island and its history.”

M.V. Eco Adventures was started in the spring of 2009. The business has doubled in size with bookings coming in as early in April this year, and two new guides have been added this summer to handle the demand. The positive response has led VanLandingham to consider extending M.V. Eco’s season into the fall and he is also looking into other ways to grow through new activities. “If you asked me two months ago I would have said I was a full-time landscaper and a guide on the side,” he says. “I now consider myself a full-time kayak guide.”

Like many kids who grow up on the Island, VanLandingham always dreamed of making a life here. “Growing up on the Island, being on the water and being outdoors all really gave me an appreciation for the environment; the Island really means a lot to me, and I want to give something back. I always knew I wanted to move back to the Island and start my own business, and kayaking seemed like the best way to go,” he says.

After graduating from MVRHS in 2001, VanLandingham attended Green Mountain College in Vermont where he received a degree in Adventure Recreation with a focus in Environmental Sciences. Before coming home to the Vineyard, he spent five years leading white-water rafting expeditions in Maine. This experience, coupled with additional training has led to certification as a Level 4 ACA (American Canoe Association) Coastal Sea Kayak Instructor, a Wilderness First Responder, a registered Maine guide and a Leave no Trace trainer. Mr. VanLandingham says, “All of these experiences, from childhood up through college and beyond, have led to MV Eco Adventures.”

For many young people, native or not, it is not easy starting a career on the Island. So it’s always good news to hear of a young Islander who has come up with a good idea and is able to make it work. Community support for his efforts has been vital, according to Mr. VanLandingham. At the heart of his success, however, is his pure passion for the outdoors and his conviction that many people want to learn more about the outdoors and how to treat the environment more respectully. “It really helps to know that people want to experience the Island in this way,” he says.

For more information, visit MV Eco Adventures on the web at http://www.mvecoadventures.com.