Essay: Sheriff’s Meadow will continue to strengthen community ties

Cedar Tree Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in West Tisbury is one of the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation's crown jewels.
File photo by Tim Johnson

Cedar Tree Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in West Tisbury is one of the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation's crown jewels.

For Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, 2011 was a year of action. I contrast that with 2010, a year of reflection and planning. In 2010, we had just celebrated our 50th anniversary, and the board of directors thought it important to think about the next 50 years and what Sheriff’s Meadow could do within its conservation mission to make the Vineyard a better place. The result was a 10-year plan. While the plan is important, it really is just a document. What matters most are the actions we started to take this year to bring the plan to life.

Ensuring that our organization and our lands have strong, vital connections to the community is the single biggest goal of our plan. We aim to strengthen these connections in a number of ways, including creating new trails, conserving key properties, supporting local farming, establishing an environmental education program, offering different ways to become involved, and broadening our board of directors. We made progress in each area this year.

Over the past few years we have greatly expanded public access on our properties. Taking a walk on conservation land is perhaps the simplest, most direct way for people to connect with a local land trust and the lands entrusted to it. We want everyone to know they are welcome on Sheriff’s Meadow trails. We don’t charge any fees, and there is no membership required – anyone can come. Next year, we will install handsome new welcome signs at all of our open-to-the-public properties. For a few of our trails, it has been hard to tell that they were open. That will no longer be the case. Wherever we have a trail, it will be clearly marked, and people will know they are welcome. We hope to match our trails to the efforts underway in the community, including the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, to promote walking and physical activity.

In 2011, we opened a new trail on a property high above Moshup Beach in Aquinnah. This trail offers a scenic loop and makes connections to neighboring land of the Wampanoag Tribe, town, and Land Bank. Next year, we will open four new trails at the Caroline Tuthill Preserve in Edgartown. The new trails will make three connections to the bike path along Beach Road, and will make it possible for Boulevard and Ocean Heights neighbors to bicycle directly to State Beach without having to navigate the busy intersections at the Triangle. We will also open a new, bluff-top trail at Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary with spectacular views out to Vineyard Sound.

We are doing a number of other things to connect our lands to the community. To better support local farming, we formed an agriculture committee with a goal of leasing more land to local farmers. To address the tick problem and to embrace traditional, rural uses of land, we now allow the hunting of deer by bow and arrow on certain properties by permit. We just formed an education committee, and will establish, in concert with Island schools, a strong, land-based environmental education program.

We also continued to conserve land and actively protect land entrusted to us. This year the Foundation purchased land on Chappy and a conservation restriction in Aquinnah. The Chappy purchase was made possible through the generosity of Virginia Mattern. The land is short walk from the ferry, and a public path will offer commanding views of Edgartown Harbor. Made possible through the generosity of Yvette Eastman, the Aquinnah restriction protects land on the shore of Menemsha Pond. We also continued our longstanding work of caring for rare species and maintaining wildlife habitat.

This year, we expanded the number of directors who may serve on the board from 24 to 35. In our view, a bigger board can better represent the towns and neighborhoods that make up the Island’s diverse year-round and seasonal communities. This change affirms our work over the past several years to broaden the board, particularly with respect to Island residents. Of course, what is most important about any board is who serves on it. On that count, we are very fortunate to have a great group of volunteer directors, all of whom care deeply about conservation and the community.

We also want people to become involved short of service on our board. For example, this year we established a trails committee that offers a great way to get involved. Join this committee, and you can help paint blazes on trails, build benches, clear downed branches, and maintain our growing trail network. We hope that this effort can grow to the point where a dedicated volunteer or community group can be responsible for maintaining a trail system on a specific property.

So, as we head into 2012, I would like to remind all Islanders that our land is your land. We encourage you to join us in our efforts, and to contact us at 508-693-5207 or at info@sheriffsmeadow.org if you would like more information or wish to become involved.