To the Editor:
In 1970, my grandparents purchased a house in Edgartown on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. The home was selected for their retirement, and for my grandfather, retirement meant fishing. I grew up spending my summers in Edgartown, and the summers meant a ride in his Jeep to the wonderful places in Martha’s Vineyard that are only reachable via OSV (oversand vehicle) roads.
For my grandparents, Thomas and Anne Satterthwaite, the Vineyard was always a special place. This is true for many reasons, but one of the most important was the fact that some of the most beautiful spots on this island were open for everyone. On other islands, such as the neighboring Elizabeth chain, the beaches are the exclusive playground of the elite. The Massachusetts high-tide access laws date back to 1641, and protect the property owners’ rights in such a way that private beaches are truly private. Very few states have such strong laws protecting owners’ rights against those of us regular people. But despite these draconian laws, the Vineyard is different from the rest of Massachusetts. Much of the most beautiful land was deeded to the Trustees (and Sheriff’s Meadow and other smaller preservation groups) specifically so that these beaches would be available to everyone.
But this all came to a crashing end this summer. The Trustees of Reservations have completely closed Norton Point and Cape Poge, two of the most beautiful locations on the Island. They are even evicting pedestrian traffic from their beaches. My son and daughter were kicked off Cape Poge Beach on July 8 by Trustees representatives (in brown shirts no less). The best accessible Island beaches have become just like Naushon, Nashawena, and the rest — the exclusive domain of the rich and famous.
Furthermore, these closures are in direct violation of the guidelines they purport to enforce. Ask any Trustee representative why the beaches are being closed, and they will tell you, “It’s the law.” But this is a mendacity. Anyone can look up the law. It is online. The MESA (Massachusetts Endangered Species Act) of 1990 states that you cannot “take” endangered species. Although the definition of take is assumed to include “don’t mess with the nests,” it doesn’t define “messing.” Instead the trustees rely on the guidelines published by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in April 1993. Let me provide a few select quotes from these guidelines that the Trustees will not tell you.
“The Division has sought to provide necessary protection to piping plovers and terns without unnecessarily restricting appropriate access along all of the state’s beaches. The Division has a long history of promoting the rights of citizens to enjoy a variety of outdoor pursuits, provided that they do not jeopardize the state’s wildlife resources.” The trustees will argue that these restrictions are “necessary” to prevent such jeopardy. However, since the population of plovers has climbed from under 150 pairs to over 600 between 1990 and today, it would seem that the 25-plus years of sharing the beaches has worked out just fine.
The Division also writes, “Even when vehicular access is restricted, the Division will normally support continued access to beaches for fisherman and other recreational users by foot and by boat.” Apparently the Trustees didn’t get the memo. The Sheriff’s Meadow people are even more militant about the beaches they take care of, and deny all access to their beachfront.
Lastly, all the text in the guidelines is precisely that: guidelines. It is not law but rather a set of suggested procedures. The law says “don’t mess with the nests,” but the Trustees are defining “mess” as they please (and as their well-heeled donors direct them).
Needless to say, our donations to the Trustees have also come to a halt. We recommend that any other readers who feel the Trustees’ overreach do the same. If my grandfather were still alive, he would likely have put the house on the market, and found a new retirement home.