Fence would be a doggone shame

0

Martha’s Vineyard Island has witnessed unprecedented change in the most recent decades. Farming declined; centuries-old pastures and fields were left to knot into vines and shrubs. The “freedom to roam” was curtailed as fences were erected across trails, beaches were gated off, and hunting was restricted.

Those are the opening lines on the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission website, which makes it incredibly ironic and unfortunate that the commission is now looking to make portions of the 71.8-acre parcel known as Trade Wind Fields Preserve off-limits to foot traffic by erecting a post-and-wire fence.

While we understand the need to protect the fragile flora and fauna, some of it rare and endangered, the fence seems like unnecessary overreach on the part of the commission, and at a time when even Land Bank officials are marveling at how well the fields are are doing.

“It obviously looks healthy,” Matthew Dix, the Land Bank foreman, said at a recent meeting between the commission and users of the preserve, many of them dog owners.

All of which makes this fence seem like a solution in search of a problem.

Dog owners, who use the area as a place to walk their pets, have certainly barked the loudest about this proposal, but they are not alone in opposition to the proposed fence.

An online petition that went up last week had 277 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, with 107 comments calling on the commission to rethink the plan to put up a fence on the popular Oak Bluffs preserve.

This isn’t just about dog-walking and exercise. It’s about a social spot that’s integral to the lifeblood of the Island, particularly in the quiet off-season months when folks can take a deep breath and reconnect with other Islanders.

Take this woman’s comment, left on the petition website: “This park is the most loved and used piece of Land Bank property on Martha’s Vineyard,” she wrote. “I have walked there for over 15 years, and see each day how it provides recreation and companionship to a wide variety of Islanders, seasonal residents, and visitors. How wonderful that the money that citizens put into this property has such an overwhelmingly positive effect on so many lives. Of course dogs are the reason we all gather, but these walks with friends are many times the highlight of our days, especially during the sometimes long winter months ahead.”

The money is something that should not be forgotten. Tradewinds, which is what it’s called in the local vernacular, was purchased with funds collected from a 2 percent transfer tax on most property transactions. That means many of the people using it have likely contributed to it in some way.

It is the people’s land, and commissioners are the stewards of that land.

And you’ll excuse us if we don’t quite understand how the airstrip that is part of the property isn’t a bigger issue than the people who want to use it for outdoor exercise and enjoyment without a fence obstructing the vistas. In answering questions about the damage done by landing planes at the site, Mr. Dix elicited some grumbling by saying that “the pressure of soft airplane tires is much less than someone standing on that spot.”

Seems incredible, but it’s a claim that’s been repeated at the past two meetings on the issue.

Let’s not forget, this area has been under the control of the Land Bank for nearly 30 years, since it was purchased for $2.75 million to protect it from a development that would have included 32 condos, a clubhouse, and 12 2,500-square-foot homes. And it’s only been recently that the Land Bank has attempted to exert more control over the property by hiring a part-time monitor, and instituting a user’s guide for dog walkers. The results have been impressive.

That’s why the compromise put forth by those opposed to the fence makes a lot of sense. Postpone the construction of the fence, continue with the current protocol of signs and self-policing, and see if things continue to improve.

The people who use Tradewinds have spoken loudly, clearly, and, for the most part, respectfully.

The fence isn’t in keeping with the Land Bank’s ideals of preserving property in its natural, scenic, and open state.

It’s time to hit the pause button and let the public that uses the property demonstrate that a fence is not needed.