The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) has eliminated three full-time positions on Martha’s Vineyard and laid off two longtime staffers as part of a general retrenchment by Massachusetts’s oldest private conservation organization, intended to beef up its seasonal Island resources.
TTOR owns and/or manages 105 properties across the state. They include five reservations on Martha’s Vineyard that total 1,573 acres and are among the most popular recreational destinations for residents and visitors.
The two largest Island properties are the 632-acre Long Point Wildlife Refuge in West Tisbury, and the miles of beachfront, much of it accessible by four-wheel drive vehicle, that make up the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge and Wasque Point reservation — more than 700 acres comprising some of the Island’s finest unspoiled beaches and shoreline open to the public.
In the past, responsibility for each property fell to a year-round fulltime superintendent who lived on the properties. That has now changed as a result of layoffs and a change in the job description and salary of Chris Kennedy, formerly TTOR southeast regional director.
The Trustees have laid off Chris Egan, for 14 years the superintendent at Long Point, and Kate Conde, a fulltime conservation ranger.
The Chappy and Long Point fulltime superintendent positions are eliminated. Seasonal superintendents will now be responsible for the properties six months out of the year and day-to-day operations such as scheduling of staff.
Mr. Kennedy will be the Island superintendent responsible for overall supervision.
In place of a full-time conservation ranger there will be a half-time education ranger. Paul Schultz, assistant Chappy superintendent, will have his responsibilities expanded to include all Island properties.
The TTOR relies on donations, membership fees, grants and revenue from visitors to its properties. Following the economic downturn in 2009, The Trustees reorganized and laid off eight employees in the face of declining donations and a drop in the value of its endowment.
The current changes are unrelated to last year’s difficulties, TTOR officials told The Times in a telephone conversation and are an outgrowth of strategic planning.
Steve Sloan, acting southeast regional director, told The Times that donations were up 5 percent in fiscal 2010, the endowment has rebounded and membership stands at 46,000, the highest it has been.
“Our primary focal points are always giving visitors great experiences and being excellent stewards of the properties and their natural and cultural resources,” Mr. Sloan said. “This is a move designed to allow us to do that even better than we have and do it in a way that we think the community will appreciate. That being said, we recognize it is always hard when we make a decision affecting full-time staff.”
The shift will allow The Trustees to add two seasonal shorebird monitors, two additional seasonal rangers on Chappaquiddick properties, and a seasonal educator to manage the Saltonstall Education Program, according to a press release.
Mr. Kennedy confirmed the changes and spoke about what it meant for the organization, and personally, in a telephone conversation with The Times.
“I am now the Martha’s Vineyard superintendent, so I will be overseeing both properties,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Kennedy said it was very difficult to deliver the news to Mr. Egan that his position had been eliminated. “He has done a terrific job for us,” Mr. Kennedy said.
The changes also include a change of address for Mr. Kennedy and his wife Carol. They will leave their house in Vineyard Haven and move into the superintendent’s house at the entrance to Wasque Point.
And there is discussion about placing the Long Point superintendent’s house that overlooks Tisbury Pond on the rental market. The former clubhouse for the Tisbury Pond Club — formed in 1912 by a group of wealthy Boston duck hunters — what it lacks in size it makes up for in view and history.
In 1979, Frederick Blodgett, Carl Gilbert, and William Rogers, the last three remaining members of the club, gave the Long Point property to The Trustees.
Mission is unchanged
“The Trustees of Reservations preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts,” is the stated mission on the organization’s website.
Over the years on Martha’s Vineyard, The Trustees has balanced public access with stewardship under sometimes difficult circumstances. That includes the county-owned Norton Point Beach, managed for Dukes County by The Trustees.
In more than 23 years on the Vineyard Mr. Kennedy has weathered a number of political and regulator battles that put the Vineyard squarely in the sights of state and federal environmental officials.
Mr. Kennedy, a former state fisheries and wildlife manager, said Islanders should remain confident that he will continue to represent their interests. “For the 23 years that I have worked out here for The Trustees, public access and resource protection have gone hand-in-hand and that is not going to change,” he said.
Mr. Kennedy said that the changes would allow TTOR to beef up seasonal positions that would help to protect that access.
Prior to assuming regional TTOR responsibilities that required him to be off-Island three or four days a week, Mr. Kennedy was a familiar presence in meetings and on the properties. He said he looks forward to reestablishing those connections.
“I have a fairly extensive background in property management and working with the Island community,” he said. “And I found over the last few years I was spending less and less time on Martha’s Vineyard and from a personal point of view that bothered me.”
Mr. Kennedy said the change could be looked at as a decrease in stature within the organization. “But I’m delighted,” Mr. Kennedy said. “I think that it is going to put me back in the community doing what I love to do.”