Trustees fall short at Long Point

To the Editor:

I’ve written this letter to The Trustees of Reservations, about their Long Point Wildlife Refuge, to express my concern, as an annually repeating visitor to Martha’s Vineyard, over evident official policy which does not seem to take sufficient heed of the requirements for public safety — and hygiene — in public places.

Clearly, Martha’s Vineyard has developed into one of the most popular summer vacation spots in the United States, certainly a top choice in the Northeast.

In these two summers past, the Island most certainly benefited from hundreds of million of dollars (my crude estimate) worth of free promotion, publicity, and advertisement with President Obama’s preference of location for his family’s annual vacation.

However, in my view, there is so much that needs to be done in the areas of public safety and public health (sanitation) that could help to make the Island truly worthy of its reputation.

While we were there for the last week of August, my family and I, along with our friends, spent a delightful half day at the Long Point Wildlife Refuge and Nature Reserve in West Tisbury. This is a highly laudable, environmentally friendly project, with both two large freshwater lakes and wide beach frontage of pounding surf from the sea.

From year-old toddlers to the limping aged, all enjoy, in safety, the extensive shallows of the lake (about 30 meters out and still the water not past your knees). But thereafter, it does deepen almost suddenly, presenting a danger. At the wide seafront about 100 meters from the lake, the pounding surf and powerful undertow are continually a threat.

During this year’s visit to the Wildlife Refuge (on Friday, August 27), two teenagers holidaying with their families, while frolicking in the sea, found themselves caught in the undertow, pulled away from the shore, frightened and incapable of battling their way back in. Strangers who were strong swimmers went to their assistance and effected a rescue. A distressingly close call.

The nature refuge is large and hugely popular with Vineyard visitors. I imagine, with residents too. It seems almost always that its car park for 125 vehicles is at capacity, thereafter requiring that other visitors be dropped off by private transport or large taxis.

In our case, with a sign posted that the car park was full, we had to leave our three SUVs at the nearby Martha’s Vineyard Airport then use privately operated taxis twice for the trips to and from the refuge.

The point being made here is that some amount of danger lurks at this lovely vacation center, a fact which is clearly recognized by the authorities; yet there is no responsibility taken for the safety of the happy thousands who are in fact guests within their facility.

As I see it, no one illegally intrudes onto the nature refuge: There is an entrance fee: $3 per person on foot or bicycle, and $10 per vehicle with its occupants. We were there because of their advertisements, on their invitation, and at their fixed price.

It was to me distressing to see at any entry-paid facility on Martha’s Vineyard (or any public-access facility anywhere in the United States), a bright red sign posted by the refuge authorities virtually declaring that their guests/customers’ safety while on their property/facility is none of their business. In other words, what they are saying is tantamount to: We really don’t care if you sink or swim. It’s all up to you.

The sign declared: “DANGER: No Lifeguards — Swim At Your Own Risk: Steep Beaches, Changing Ocean Currents, and Shifting Winds All Present Danger to Swimmers.”

At the bottom on the sign were the words — Trustees of Reservations: Conserving the Massachusetts Landscape Since 1891.

Big deal. Conserving landscapes, but virtually condemning people.

I have decided to dispatch this letter of observations/complaints to you the Trustees of Reservations so as to underline the point that visitors to the nature refuge are not trespassers. They bought the legal right of entry through a prescribed fee, and under the provisions of the U.S. Constitution I would expect that they should have the prerogative of protection from the trustees and their representatives.

The minimum requirement should be the stationing of lifeguards either to assist any swimmers who encounter difficulty or to prevent anyone at all going into the water, thus confining all activity to the beaches, if that is what you prefer.

Further, the sanitary facilities (restrooms) at the refuge were so disgracefully primitive that few would wish to ‘rest’ there, except experiencing a crisis; and, to boot, they were so far away from where the crowds congregate.

Dissatisfaction also attends the lack of, or inadequate, public conveniences along other stretches of beach. There is a restroom facility at the ferry pier, but it is so far away from where most people would be on the Oak Bluffs town beach; and, worse, the expansive and widely popular Joseph Sylvia Beach has none.

Attention, trustees: those who care naught and would defile the environment, would likely take such negligence as a cue, and therefore relieve themselves anywhere, perhaps even among the heaps of smelly garbage I saw lying on areas of the beaches.

It is difficult to understand why America’s Martha’s Vineyard should be trailing so far behind the standards in a small third-world jurisdiction like Barbados, which has over 70 lifeguards stationed at the 19 most frequented beaches, and they are rated among the most highly trained in the world. They are constantly retrained and recertified both locally and by the Lifesaving Society of Canada in Water Safety/First Aid/Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation and Aquatic Emergency Care.

Further, the Barbados National Conservation Commission employs personnel round the clock to ensure cleanliness of the island’s beaches, all of which are publicly owned and accessible to everybody — locals and visitors alike.

Does Barbados have something to teach Martha’s Vineyard?

Trustees, you may think me unduly critical, and feel that I am ignoring all the positives about the Island. The fact is, I like Martha’s Vineyard a lot, but I think “she” deserves better.

Hubert S. Williams

Newton