Gus Ben David's legacy, and the future of Felix Neck
After 36 years of dedicated service, Gus Ben David will retire as director of Mass Audubon's Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary at the end of the year. We would be remiss to let this occasion pass without letting Vineyarders know the full extent of Gus's contributions, and to assure the community that Mass Audubon is committed to the future of Felix Neck and the Island's wildlife. The thousands of children who have taken part in educational programs and summer camp know firsthand Gus's passion for the environment, and his skill at sharing the wonders of nature. His gifts will undoubtedly influence generations who will grow up with compassion for our natural world.
Since he became director in 1969, Gus has been a true protector and steward at Felix Neck, which has grown from 197 to 293 acres, on his watch. His most recent success was brokering a partnership between Mass Audubon, the Land Bank, and the town of Edgartown, along with many generous donors, to permanently protect the 25-acre Moffet property in 2003.
Gus also devoted himself to saving the osprey population on the Island. When he and his volunteers began erecting osprey poles in 1970, there were only two breeding pairs of these magnificent raptors on the Island; today there are about 70. In addition, Mass Audubon's 20-year old Coastal Waterbird Program will continue to monitor 25 sites on the Vineyard to help protect rare birds, such as the piping plover, least tern, common tern, and American oystercatcher. Many Vineyarders have made invaluable contributions to these efforts, and we will continue to provide hands-on volunteer opportunities.
We will miss Gus's daily presence, but we understand his decision to move on to his boyhood dream of managing his own venture, the World of Reptiles and Bird Park. Mass Audubon's educational programs on the Island will also continue. We are committed to the 3,500 or so Vineyard children that we reach annually during school programs, and to the Fern and Feather Day Camp at Felix Neck, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Mass Audubon has begun a search for a new sanctuary director who will work with Felix Neck staff and the community to set the course for this next chapter in our history. Gus himself has noted that we have pressing needs to endow Felix Neck to a level that can sustain the educational mission; the heart of our work at the sanctuary. We will also study the future needs for our nature center so that we can adequately serve the Island.
In the months ahead, we will honor and thank Gus properly, for making such a difference for the wildlife of Martha's Vineyard, and for the many lives he has touched over the years. We welcome you to share your memories of Gus and Felix Neck with us, as we plan for the future.
Laura Johnson is president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org