Land Bank sets building blocks of conservation
People like to affix labels to the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank. In my tenure I have heard enough adjectives lobbed at the Land Bank to satisfy any English teacher's hopes for her creative writing class. But my personal choice would be: progressive.
In the apolitical sense.
Before progressive took on political connotations, it had a plain meaning. It denoted action oriented toward the future, where building blocks are placed atop each other, culminating in a finished product.
Seldom does the Land Bank make a decision that fails to mesh with its progressive long-term goal for the island - namely, an east-west, north-south, coast-to-coast system of public paths, all studded with large and small conservation reservations where natural beauty and ecological balance obtain.
Progressive planning requires only a few central elements.
The first element is to build on the achievements of others. The Martha's Vineyard Commission and the towns led the way early, with planning districts such as "special ways" and "special places."
Special ways are protected ancient ways, subject to regulations allowing them to remain open and continuous so that they can, where applicable, connect neighborhoods and conservation areas. In 2007, the Land Bank conserved 43 acres along the Old Courthouse Road and 19 acres along the Old Holmes Hole Road, both in West Tisbury. Had these ways been susceptible to misuse - or had they simply been vulnerable to being spaded under at an owner's whim - the Land Bank might not have been able to prioritize these two properties.
Similarly, the Land Bank joins up with partner organizations when their missions overlap. In 2007, the Boston Seaman's Friend Society divested itself of the old burying ground on Sailors Burying Ground Road in Tisbury, donating a 50 percent interest in the property to the Land Bank and a 50 percent interest to the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society. The historical society will oversee the cemetery itself, while the Land Bank will tend to the collar of wooded land around the burial area.
The second element is to create "toeholds" in strategic areas, to serve as plinths for future conservation acquisitions. A 1995 acquisition of 300 feet of Vineyard Sound beach in Tisbury - which the Land Bank named the Wilfrid's Pond Preserve - was the first of four acquisitions here, the latter three of which would have been unthinkable without the first. Three weeks ago the Land Bank approved an updated management plan for the aggregate properties, which, when implemented, will include a 15-space trailhead serving 700 feet of sandy beach.
In 2007, the Land Bank added 200 feet to its Tisbury Great Pond Beach in West Tisbury. This public south shore ocean beach, near the opening where the great pond flushes into the sea, was born in 2004 with the Land Bank's initial acquisition of 200 feet. The 2007 expansion occurred because the owners of the abutting private beach saw the sense of adding their properties to the Land Bank beach, but they would not have approached the Land Bank if the toehold did not first exist.
The toehold's cousin is patience. Patience - a willingness to let time take its course - is the third element in progressive planning. And it is chancy, since time may or may not take the particular course sought by the Land Bank. Perhaps the best example was the Land Bank's 1988 decision to purchase 18 acres of woodland along the Mill Brook in Chilmark. The land was unremarkable save for one quality - it fronted on both the North Road and the private property which the Land Bank hoped one day to purchase and turn into the Waskosim's Rock Reservation.
The Land Bank's patience - and stomach for taking a calculated risk - paid off. This 18-acre lot now provides access not only to Waskosim's Rock but also to the 98-acre Tiasquam Valley Reservation, tacked on to the Waskosim's reservation via acquisitions in 2003, 2004, and 2006. In November, the Land Bank approved the Tiasquam Valley management plan, and public access is expected to be available there in the summer of 2008.
It is worth mentioning that the tripartite agreement signed in 2007 by the town and the Land Bank and the Hillman family of Chilmark, which will result not only in more conservation land but also in affordable housing, fits the progressive model because it expands the Tiasquam Valley Reservation southward to the South Road. Miles of trails and hundreds of acres of conservation land, fastened by trailheads on the South, Middle, and North Roads, all began with the purchase of an 18-acre lot in 1988.
In 2008 the Land Bank will continue looking for partnerships, finding toeholds and awaiting opportunities to build on them. Some unexpected things will happen and are unavoidable; for instance, in 2007 a hole was punched in one of my personally favorite hikes - Katama Farm to Hickory Cove in Edgartown - when the barrier beach separating the Katama Bay and the Atlantic Ocean was breached. But less dramatic obstacles will present themselves around the island and the Land Bank, in progressive fashion, will seek a means around them.
As a result, some Land Bank decisions will probably seem, in the short run, something akin to random. Odds are, though, that instead of random, the decision will position the Land Bank to make a future decision, which will make obvious sense and stitch into a larger plan. Examples were aplenty in 2007, as they likely will be in 2008.
James Lengyel is the executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank.