For the Land Bank, it is 1990 again
Few Islanders, and few Island institutions, specialized in optimism 18 years ago. A mere infant - voters had created the public land trust only four years before - the Land Bank had barely begun trying to fulfill its mission when a plunge in revenues threatened to narrow its scope considerably.
At stake primarily was land acquisition. Even at this early stage it was already clear to commissioners that the pay-as-you-go model - Yankee though it may have been - would have resulted in failure. Properties were not going to wait patiently for sufficient cash to accumulate in the Land Bank treasury to rescue them. Only revenue bonds would raise enough money to make a dent in Martha's Vineyard's conservation goals, and the atmosphere for issuing bonds was not ideal.
But land management, too, was affected. Public support for the Land Bank is not abstract. Support arises when people use and enjoy conservation land, since it whets their appetites for more. From the outset, land management was a philosophical priority for the institution, but only so much could be accomplished with revenues in a slough.
File photo by Nis Kildegaard
The Land Bank's experience in 1990, however, served to season it, as it now faces 2009.
Here's how. Many prospective sellers in 1990 were willing to wait for a revenue rebound; their good will allowed the Land Bank to pursue their properties later in the decade. Other landowners simply chose to sit tight until prices stabilized; when they eventually did, the Land Bank was by then positioned to buy their lands. Land management did not stagnate but instead progressed slowly.
Some properties were indeed lost in the early 1990s. They are developed today and Martha's Vineyard's loss - in the form of intrusive buildings, interrupted trail networks, increased traffic on Martha's Vineyard's roads - is real. But it is hard to shed too many tears, when so many successes are spread across Martha's Vineyard.
The Land Bank commission and its town advisory boards have every reason to expect 2009 to ape 1990. Some lands will slip away, some land management projects may be delayed. But the core of the Land Bank's efforts will continue.
And 2008 itself was a year of accomplishments.
Most of the acquisitions were accretions - properties abutting existing Land Bank reservations, whose addition expands a reservation's trail system, or scenic corridor, or its ability to protect more broadly the wildlife habitat there. The Tiasquam Valley Reservation, straddling Middle Road in Chilmark, grew when a 11-acre pondside sheep pasture was conserved. Water quality in Little Duarte's Pond in Oak Bluffs, not to mention its wooded environs, were protected with the purchase of a riparian building lot, all of which integrated with the 60-plus acres already conserved nearby.
Ripley's Field Preserve in Tisbury increased by 20 percent, when 12 acres of rolling woodland were appended to it.
The Three Ponds Reservation in Edgartown grew by a fifth with the addition of 52 acres; the beach here along the Cape Pogue Bay was extended another 25 percent and now comprises nearly a third of a mile. Ben Toms Preserve in Edgartown added another several hundred feet of wooded frontage along the West Tisbury Road, to help keep this road beautiful on its entrance into Edgartown Center.
Two agricultural areas were added. Some 12 acres abutting the Peaked Hill Reservation in Chilmark were purchased; and the Land Bank conserved the final eight acres of the Square Field property in West Tisbury. Square Field, which stretches from State Road, just about opposite the Agricultural Hall, to Old County Road, now comprises 89 acres.
And then there are the two Qs. Two new reservations were created out of whole cloth, along the south shore of Martha's Vineyard. The Quansoo Preserve in Chilmark brings 400 feet of Tisbury Great Pond shorefront into protection. Its setting is exquisite - many hikers will choose to access it via a long walk through the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation's 150-acre Quansoo Farm and will be rewarded on the beach by a broad easterly view across the great pond to Long Point, or an equally impressive northerly view of the pond's Town Cove, with Indian Hill rising behind it.
Situated on the opposite end of Martha's Vineyard, on Chappaquiddick, is the second Q - the Quammox Preserve. Twenty-two acres are now conserved there, plus some 550 feet of Katama Bay beach. Quammox sits along the Cross-Chappy Trail, which means that it links into the spine path that stretches from Wasque Point to Hickory Cove. Once opened to the public, the land will offer visitors a trail leading down from a high, long-distance view of the Norton Point Beach breach to a small salt pond perched at the edge of the bay.
The Land Bank's report for 2009 will not likely include such an impressive tally. The Land Bank will continue to seek trail links between its preserves and reservations, which return great benefits for modest expenditure, and will focus on land management. Still, voters may expect to see some but not too much new, protected land. That day is in the future, and probably the near future.
James Lengyel is the executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank.