Overstepping in the name of preservation


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.

George Michaels



  1. Thank you to the Trustees for preserving all that is wild and beautiful about the island, especially the precious wildlife that is so much at risk by over development. It is sad that some individuals – Mr. Michaels provides a wonderful example – can’t see beyond their own privilege and entitlement to respect the work that is being done. It is exactly the work of the Trustees that helps there still be spaces that are anything like the island his grandparents likely fell in love with in the 70’s.

    While the letter of the law, which Mr. Michaels is so eager to cite, may leave room for interpretation, the Trustees are using that interpretation to uphold the spirit of the law. That what they are quite literally enTRUSTed to do. They are preserving our wonderful island, so that is not over run and destroyed by those prioritizing their own recreational time and hobbies over the long term good of the land and nature.

    While it’s possible Mr. Michaels may be able to peacefully co-exist on a beach with nesting plovers, despite his apparent self centered-ness, opening the beaches to OSV means opening the beaches to everyone with a pass. An average day at Norton will show you plenty of heavy drinking, inexperienced over-sand driving by tourists with rented Jeeps, sometimes paired with the previously stated drinking, dogs off leashes, and plenty of room for disrespect, disregard, and devastation of our resources. Even islanders are not exempt from this kind of entitlement, the same people complaining about the traffic in summer and “our island” being over run, not the same as it used to be, are the ones making jokes about cooked plover, or climbing on the dwindling rock formations at Lucy Vincent to take a photo (seriously, cut it out).

    I for one will be upping my donation to the Trustees. I’m not sure it will fill the void, but I’m happy to contribute what I can. Thank you for all you do, and all the harassment, abuse, and complaining you have to put up with. Maybe Mr. Michaels and those like him will opt to go somewhere else next summer. Either way, I’ll still be here, and thankfully so will the plovers.

  2. Hi Mary,

    Ad hominem arguments are always a nice way to rebut an opinion. I understand you don’t agree with my thoughts, but resorting to insults instead of reasoned, thoughtful and constructive counterpoints is well…..somewhat “Trumpian”.

    I also clearly see that it is your motivation to keep the “rented Jeeps”, unleashed dogs and the rest of the deplorables (in your words – everyone with a pass) off the beaches, rather than any concern for the birds. Thank you for making my point in a very precise fashion. This is not about the birds. It is about an undeclared war between Mary and her friends who wish to keep the Jeeps off the beaches and those of use who have grown up on those beaches and wish to keep using them as we always have.

    So I won’t tell you that you are “self-centered” nor will I tell you to go elsewhere next Summer. You are welcome to share the island with those of use who have been here 50 years or more, but let’s share it. The island’s resources are meant for everyone. The Trustees have done an excellent job restoring the shorebird population. The MA governement has been publishing a bird census for decades now. The Plover population has climbed from just over 100 pairs in 1986 to over 600 breeding pairs this year. I am not making up these numbers Mary, you can find them on the MA government websites.

    So if the birds are coming back despite the Jeeps, dogs and deplorables on the beaches, then why do we need to kick them all off the beach? Probably because they offend certain people’s sensibilities. However given the demographics of Duchess County – second poorest county in MA off-season, I somehow doubt that it is the full time residents (and I don’t mean the wealthy retirees) complaining about the Jeeps.

    So there are plenty of folks who think that the Trustees are going a bit beyond what is written in the law to try to make Mary and her friends happy, but that is what a free society is about. Everyone gets their own opinion. And as Senator Warren just put it, we seem to have lost our Civility somewhere along the way. Maybe Mary will remember it next time she calls someone “self-centered” who disagrees with her.

    George Michaels

  3. Hi George. I am surprised that you would find my response “Trumpian” when it was explicitly prioritizing the environment over the whims and desires of the individual, particularly you. And yes, there are plenty that agree with you about the Trustees going “overboard”. Being on a popular side of an opinion has never directly correlated to being on the selfless, ethical, or compassionate side of an opinion. To be clear, the only thing I find deplorable is the entitlement of those that feel they have a right to protected lands when that access would put that land and wildlife at risk.

    Let’s go to the numbers. “The Plover population has climbed from just over 100 pairs in 1986 to over 600 breeding pairs this year” in Massachusetts. On Chappy there are 18 pairs of birds, Mr. Michaels. Struggling to grow. So while the population may be back up and thriving in Duxbury or wherever else, it is in tenuous and delicate balance exactly in the spot where you’d like to roar your vehicle out to. You seem thoroughly satisfied with the ecological progress, but the Trustees are not. Thankfully they decide.

    You are a guest of the Trustees when you are on the land they monitor and run. You do not have a right to be there, grandfather’s vacation home or not, you have a privilege. And while you may have gotten used to that privilege, it does not change the fact that it can – for any reason deemed appropriate to the Trustees – be restricted or revoked at any time.

    I will be here next year, I live here year round. I support this island because it is not a nostalgic place to play, but my home, where my friends and family make their living off the land, sea, and industry. In no small way, our livelihoods depend on the sustained and continued health of all that is beautiful, natural and pure about this island. This is an uphill battle after decades of over-development, strained resources and infrastructure, inflated cost of living, and the privatization of wild spaces. The exact parts of the island you want access to for nostalgia, the exact parts that draw tourists year after year, are the exact parts that have to be so carefully defended from the impact of those same visitors, residents, etc. whether due to unintentional recklessness, or simply the unavoidable but still impactful footprint left by even the most considerate of OSV traffic.

    Thank goodness for the Trustees working to protect this in all area, not exclusive to but including the health of the plovers, and on the health of these plovers on Chappy in particular. I hope you can open your eyes to the beauty of the island that is still very much accessible to you, OSV accessible or not, and appreciate the noble and hard work of those who fight to keep it that way for you and others. It might be one summer to you, where you felt inconvenienced. Plovers may be increasing in numbers state wide. But on the beaches you want access to, they are very much still at risk, and are being protected accordingly.

  4. “Argumentum ad Hominem” is an expression used to describe when a person uses an insult in place of contradicting a fact. Using the term ‘Self-Centered’ in lieu of actually contradicting any of my facts is an Ad Hominem argument. It is considered uncivil and is frequently practiced by certain politicians. Often the MV Times bans this kind of post.

    I too am happy that Trustees, and not folks such as Mary K, make the rules. She has made it clear that if she called the shots she would never allow any ‘Roaring’ OSV to ever sully her beaches. Perhaps the Summer crowds also offend this kind of person and they would also ban tourists. Maybe she would make it so that you would need a special permit (issued by her, of course) to even be allowed the ‘privilege’ of visiting the island. I am here all year round and the crowds have always been here in the Summer and they always will be (well maybe not if MaryK has her way). However, it is these same crowds that supply the lifeblood commerce that makes it possible for so many islanders to survive. If you got rid of the crowds, many many people would find it impossible to earn enough to stay here. The OSV permit sales also supply the Trustees with hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to keep their programs well funded.

    Yes, the island needs to be protected, as do all our natural resources. However, I would advocate small tweaks to the practices done by the local branch of the Trustees, to make them more in line with Trustees CEO Barbara Erickson’s statement “We must be more visible and vocal, more relevant, more welcoming and more accessible”. The Trustees lands on the island in the last several years have become less welcoming and less accessible. My point is to suggest small changes to stay on track with the goals professed by the Trustees own document “Trustees 2018”. It seems certain people simply want to remove anyone they don’t like from the island (note MaryK’s suggestion above that I not come back next Summer).

    I wonder if people like MaryK even know where the folks that mow their lawns, clean their houses and stock the shelves at Cronig’s do on the weekends? I do – they are out on Norton Point. Oh I forgot, not anymore. The small section of East Beach still open to SUV’s is completely jammed and the ferry line to Chappy is over an hour and a half. I am not sure she understands that when she makes posts about the roaring SUV’s devastating her island how grouchy some of us become. Likely she doesn’t care.

  5. I for one am a Trustees supporter. My wife and I have stickers for Norton and Poge and while the closures are not ideal, we support the work the Trustees are doing to enforce laws & bolster the wildlife populations. MaryK was apt in citing the 18 pairs of Plovers trying to hatch and fledge. 18. MA facts go out the window when we’re sharing our opinions on the OVS situation here on MV.
    In my opinion if the OVS closures save 1 nest or 1 fledgling from being disturbed and surviving—its totally worth it.
    GMichaels you have clearly taken umbrage to being called self-centered and entitled. But sir, dont you feel entitled to be able to drive on the beach and fish during the closure? And wouldnt that be putting your own desires ahead of the wildlife the Trustees are protecting by enforcing federal laws?
    Good for you MaryK, in reading GMike’s comments you clearly ruffled his feathers—watch out buddy there are plenty of Islanders who might want to grill you to see if you taste like chicken!!

  6. Oh dear George. An “ad hominem” attack against what you see as an “ad hominem” attack, how poorly your debate-team ethics stand up to a perceived critique.

    You’re mistaken George. I am the one mowing your lawn. No one mows my lawn, I live in an apartment. I struggle to get by. I work damn hard all year long for what I have, and I save up for my sticker for OSV access. And yet I still support the Trustees when they deem it to be in the best interest of the land and wildlife that I am not allowed to roar my own vehicle over that sand either. I am not seeking a refund or protesting or gnashing my teeth.

    I am not drawing a line between an “us” and “them” as you are. I am including myself in the whole, and yet I am still able to put aside, I’ll say it again, my own recreational self interest for the betterment of the island I love and live on. You seem to see this as a very economically polarized issue, you seem to think there are big wigs pulling the strings in ivory towers somewhere. Frankly it’s not that interesting, it’s not about class, or abuse of power, or any of that. It’s about some endangered birds regaining a foothold on a small part of a small island that they have been all but eliminated from. So throw around your arguments, we could continue this forever, but I’m over it. The whole entire point, George, is that this is just not about you.

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