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Oak Bluffs

And not eat it all?

Marguerite Cook shows Holly Nadler how to display the chocolates they've made (and not yet eaten). – Photos by Michael Cummo

You might say I chose this particular mission — prepping chocolates — as an easy way out in the “How Hard” enterprise, whose credo, if it had one, would run something along the lines of “How hard could it be for one neurotic, I-have-a-note-from-my-psychiatrist Valley Girl to attempt some new venture that takes her far out of her comfort zone?”

Solid chocolate is made into liquid chocolate, so it can be scooped and poured into molds.
Solid chocolate is made into liquid chocolate, so it can be scooped and poured into molds.

Making chocolate? Pffff! Isn’t that like how hard could it be to get a massage, or to drink Campari and soda with George Clooney?

But I’m asking one of Life’s Big Questions here, and my goal is to receive the answer after an afternoon with Marguerite Cook, accomplished chocolatier and owner of the Good Ship Lollipop at the top of Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

The Big Question? If you’re like me, and your control blows a gasket when surrounded by sugary treats (with perhaps the exception of Fig Newtons and a particularly dry Jewish pastry called mandel breit), how hard could it be to actually work in a candy store and resist munching one’s way through the stock (asking the proprietress, of course, to run a tab — a big tab)? And this made me wonder: How many of us go wobbly-kneed at the sight of a cupcake or even an after-dinner mint? And conversely, what percentage of us eat very few sweets? Or none at all?

Caught in the act.
Caught in the act.

Turns out, hardly anyone is able to hold back, at least according to my own double-blind study when I posed the question to Facebook friends, asking how they’d address a bag of macadamia nut cookies left over from coffee with afternoon guests. Would they scoff them all before their heads hit the pillow? (As I had done the day before.)

Out of the dozens of comments that flooded back, the plea for abstention ran something like 20 to 1 against. Respondents related sugar consumption of epic proportions, such as Carole Flanders, originally of Oak Bluffs, now of Florida, who wrote, “I recently demolished three-quarters of a carrot cake at a single sitting.” Barbara Beichek of Oak Bluffs shared, “I’ve gobbled Nestlé Quik dry ’cauz I had no milk.” Jim Bishop, also of Oak Bluffs, revealed he would polish off the cookies immediately, because “it’s not worth waking up in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep because there are certain uneaten cookies in the kitchen.” Nancy Slonim Aronie of Chilmark bravely admitted, “I have thrown cookies into the garbage and retrieved them two hours later, let them dry out from the pickle juice and finished them off.”

Exactly three souls identified themselves in the “just say no” camp: Lynnda Blitzer from Santa Barbara wrote, “Throw them away, they’ve served their purpose.” Susan Wilson of Oak Bluffs maintained, “Leftover cookies turn to shards and crumble in my cupboard.” Debbi Kanoff of Westwood, Calif., ranked herself in the “self-restraint/deferred gratification department.” As usual, the grownups among us are few and far between.

So if most of us occasionally — or always — weaken in the grip of Back Door Donuts straight from the baker’s vat, was there any wisdom I could winnow from an afternoon of chocolate making? Could I resist munching my way through my apprenticeship?

Marguerite Cook admires the finished chocolate pops at her shop, The Good Ship Lollipop.
Marguerite Cook admires the finished chocolate pops at her shop, The Good Ship Lollipop.

I showed up at the candy shop on a freezing November afternoon. Amid festive displays of toys, stuffed animals, and every brand of candy in the known world, Marguerite already had her three Hilliard kettles rolling and gently heating to 90 degrees. One kettle held milk chocolate, the second dark, the third white. The sweet fragrance from the drums was so seductive. I was ready to plunge my face in the white chocolate cylinder and sing as I slurped, “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!” like the Disney character caroling away on the sound system.

Fortunately, Marguerite kept things on the sane and sanitary side. I was given a lavender scrub with cartoon drawings of Pinocchio figures. I’d already had the foresight to cover my hair in a pink bandana. We washed up at a specially designated sink, my mentor filling my dry hands with so much soap, I rinsed under hot water all the way through Annette Funicello’s rendition of “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”

Yes, it’s clear from the music and the memorabilia that Marguerite is nostalgic for her childhood in small-town Braintree in a family of 12 kids. Yowzer! On the same block, another family had 13 kids, yet another 15. Nowadays, she and husband David have two grown daughters and five grandkids, all of them living on the Island. Her extended family has just taken over a small city in Bavaria.

Marguerite showed me how to feed a spoonful of melted dark chocolate into trays of turkey-shaped molds. The chocolate hardens fast, so you don’t want any to spill over, and of course, mine did; I have the motor ability of Lucille Ball on the assembly line. No prob. Marguerite wielded a putty knife and slid the surplus chocolate back into the kettle where it reformatted with the sinuously swirling, bulbous ball of chocolate. She taught me to insert a white stick, twirling this way and that, before the trays of chocolate turkey pops disappeared into the cooler.

I wanted to lunge after one of those yummy treats but, well, Marguerite would notice the empty mold and, also, my right hand was encased in a latex glove, my left hand meant to mind itself. No petting of dogs or patting anyone’s bottom. Or eating the product.

Next we poured milk chocolate into a tray, gave it a few minutes to harden, then Marguerite spooned white chocolate over it ever so carefully so as not to rile up the dark layer beneath. She handed me a hammer, and I bashed candy canes into tiny crystals which we sprinkled over the top. This confection too got whooshed into the cooler, but some 20 minutes later, Marguerite retrieved it and sliced it into small squares. She gave me one to sample. Heaven. The combination of chocolate layers and the poignant dusting of mint-flavored candy was a taste bud thrill of uncommon proportions; possibly the result of nibbling nothing else in the full time I’d worked in the shop.

Marguerite packed up three turkey popsicles and six of those candy cane babies for me to take home for my Thanksgiving with my son and his girlfriend in NYC. She tied a gold ribbon around the box, and said with a knowing wink, “I’m calling Charlie to make sure this ribbon was intact when it got to him.”

The ribbon remained intact all the way up my stairs. By the time I crawled into bed, however, I’d devoured four of the squares. My tummy churned, and I swore off candy cane bark for alI  time. Conceivably I might have overdosed on sweets for the rest of my life.

Before falling asleep, I realized I’d stumbled on a major cultural breakthrough. Anyone can be treated for sugar addiction: Simply indenture oneself to a baker or a candy maker for an afternoon!

The next morning I woke up with something in my freezer with my name on it.

Brynn and Asher Savva pose with Santa at Offshore Ale. — Photo by Michael Cummo
From left, Bianca Teano, Payton Tennant and Delilah Butler color ornaments at Offshore Ale. — Photo by Michael Cummo
From left, Bianca Teano, Payton Tennant and Delilah Butler color ornaments at Offshore Ale. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Blustery winds and scattered showers caused members of the Oak Bluffs Association to call off some scheduled Christmas activities, including a Circuit Ave parade and hayride, last Saturday, December 6, but there was still plenty of Christmas cheer to go around. After a successful Oak Bluffs Open Market indoors at Dreamland for local artisans and crafters to sell their goods, visitors to OB gathered at Offshore Ale Company to decorate gingerbread houses, ornaments, and visit with the guest of honor, Santa Claus.

The parade and hayrides have been rescheduled for Saturday, December 20.

Help is on the way for Little bridge channel, once a main thoroughfare for kayaks, and now so clogged with sand that it can now be traversed by SUV's.

On Friday morning, Oak Bluffs town officials were notified by town administrator Robert Whritenour that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has given final approval on the Project Worksheet for Sengekontacket dredging, according to an email shared with the Times. FEMA has indicated that the funds will be committed either Friday or Monday. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) will then release a state contract to the town which will be voted on by selectmen. Mr. Whritenour estimated that the project can be completed by April 1, the deadline set by the Massachusetts National Heritage Endangered Species Program regulations. Mr. Whritenour said he expects a start date from the contractor next week.

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Although long-awaited FEMA funds may be released next week, wary town officials discuss contingency plans.

Little Bridge in Oak Bluffs. —Photo by Michael Cummo

It appears that the long-running, painstaking pursuit of federal funds to dredge the choked channel at Little Bridge in Oak Bluffs may finally be at an end. At Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, town administrator Robert Whritenour read aloud an email he received that morning from Tom Perry, a high-ranking official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“We are now in the later stages of the approval process and expect to be able in the next week to provide you with the news that you have an approved FEMA Project Worksheet,” Mr. Perry wrote. “As always, it is possible we could encounter additional review/approval problems, but we do not anticipate any at this time.”

The news received a tepid response from town officials, who’ve heard words to this effect several times before. “It’s very encouraging, but it does stop short of final approval,” Mr. Whritenour said. “We’re changing our attitude with FEMA applications. As long as approval is not completely final, we need to go ahead with a new contingency plan. We can’t be sure of anything with FEMA. I recommend the town take this on as its own project.”

Mr. Whritenour said that one option is for taxpayers to vote to appropriate the funds at town meeting, possibly with a short-term bond issue, and then use the federal funding as reimbursement, rather than be beholden to a bureaucracy as clogged with red tape as Little Bridge channel is clogged with sand. “Waiting for a federal agency is not the way to go, he said. “They have a different mindset than we do.”

“In the FEMA scope, this project is nothing,” selectman Gail Barmakian said.

FEMA has budgeted the Little Bridge dredge project at $321,000. Shellfish constable David Gruden said that if the town self-finances the project, it would be free of onerous federal regulations and the job could be done much less expensively, and with local contractors. “With all the federal criteria, no local companies could bid on the job because none of them had the fancy GPS depthfinders that were required,” he said. “I talked to one of the interested local companies that said their bid would be more in the neighborhood of $150,000. If we did it our way, it could be half price or less. That said, there’s a lot more sand there now then when the project was bid on. All estimates were for removing 4,000 cubic yards of sand. It’s three or four times that now.”

Mr. Grunden added that another advantage of self-financing is that the town has permits in hand to use the sand for beach nourishment.

“I agree this is the only sane way to go,” chairman Greg Coogan said. “What’s the timeline look like?”

Mr. Grunden said the town has until April 1 to complete the dredge, otherwise — due to regulations by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program that protects nesting birds — the project would have to wait until the following autumn.

Since annual town meeting will be after the April 1 deadline, selectmen discussed calling a special town meeting to vote on financing the dredge project.
Mr. Whritenour also noted that given the declining health of Sengekontacket Pond, there is additional urgency to clear the Little Bridge channel, one of only two openings that feed water from Nantucket Sound into the pond.  “We don’t have the luxury of waiting for the federal government to write us a check,” he said.

“We need to work on this as soon as possible,” shellfish committee member Rick Huss said. “It’s already gone longer than it should. Every nor’easter is going to pile up more sand.” Mr. Huss said the lack of circulation due to the clogged channel is doubly deleterious because it endangers the shellfish population that helps buffer rising nitrate levels.
“I recommend that Bob [Whritenour] and David Grunden look at all the options, town meeting, special town meeting, and see where we stand,” Mr. Coogan said. “Hopefully we’ll hear some good news next week and this will all be moot.”

Robert Grimley, FEMA Region 1 recovery division director, told The Times in August that funding for the dredge project was likely to be released in a matter of weeks. Mr. Grimley has not returned repeated calls and emails from The Times regarding the latest FEMA developments.
In other business, selectman Michael Santoro, after recusing himself from the proceedings, went before the board to apply for a transfer of license for the Ocean View restaurant from the current owners, Ocean View Inc., to Santoro Hospitality II, Inc. “The Ocean View is an institution,” he said. “I’m going to have some tough shoes to fill. I’m going to continue the Jackson tradition as best I can. I’m going to add a few new menu items, but I won’t touch the fish sandwich or the steak sandwich, I promise.”

Noting the charitable work the Jacksons have done in the community over the years,  Mr. Santoro also promised to keep on the current Ocean View staff. “I’ve been doing business here for 23 years,” he said. “It would be foolish for me to go in there and turn it upside down.”  The selectmen approved the transfer unanimously, 3–0. Selectman Kathy Burton was absent due to illness.

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Citing issues that surfaced at an Island-wide meeting with state officials, the board amends official comment on 2014 ocean plan.

Yellow areas have been identified as possible locations for sand mining in Massachusetts waters. The areas outlined in purple are located in federal waters. – Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management

Massachusetts is the only state on the east coast that bans offshore sand mining. But the recently released  206-page 2014 Ocean Management Plan (OMP), compiled by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), proposes the formation of up to nine offshore sand mining pilot projects. Since the report was released, Oak Bluffs officials have been staunch advocates of offshore sand mining. In a letter to CZM dated October 22, Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour, on behalf of the board of selectmen, wrote, “It has become clear to us that without the availability of offshore sand resources, [Oak Bluffs] will be unable to preserve our coastal resources. The town strongly supports the use of sand mining in Massachusetts.”

At their regular meeting on Tuesday night, however, selectmen reconsidered their position. Responding to information presented at last week’s public meeting with CZM officials and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the board agreed that offshore sand mining was a more complex solution than previously thought, and that a more measured response to the CZM was in order.
“We all went to the commission meeting, and we heard a slightly different discussion than we anticipated,” chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan said.

Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman and the founding president of two fishermen’s organizations, was on hand to speak against sand mining. “Every time you collect sand, you’re disturbing the benthic environment, which is six inches of sand and mud and dirt at the bottom and is the base of the food chain,” he said. “In Nantucket Sound, the major fishery is conch (channel whelks). There are two million pounds of channel whelk landed in Martha’s Vineyard in 2014 and the price is over $2 a pound. Something in the neighborhood of $4 million is coming into this fishery. It is the most profitable fishery on the Island, and it’s very sensitive to changes in the sea bottom.”

Mr. Doty said sand mining in Vineyard sound would likewise jeopardize the winter flounder population.
“The issue is not just supporting sand mining itself,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “We want all the sand we can possibly get, but not at the cost of our fisheries. We don’t live in a vacuum here. We have to do a cost-benefit analysis. They say Rhode Island is successfully balancing both sides of the issue, but there hasn’t been any track record with long-term data.”
“This is an exceptionally complex issue,” conservation commissioner Joan Hughes said. “We need to deal with hard science and good statistics and find out how we can solve problems for both. Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey have done this. There’s a lot of very good science out there.”

Shellfish constable David Grunden said that the state would rigorously monitor the pilot projects to minimize environmental damage and that ultimately the town has to take substantive action, especially given its northeastern exposure. “If Oak Bluffs didn’t have infrastructure that was so exposed, especially during northeasters, I would probably be on the other side of this, but I’m all in favor of it,” he said. “Our low-lying roads are in peril. It’s even worse when you factor in climate change and sea level rise. The town must insist that the state allow [sand mining] to protect the town infrastructure. It’s not going to be cheap, but there’s no cheap way to protect the town from the northeast exposure.”

Mr. Grunden showed the selectmen a map that indicated the closest potential sand mining site to Oak Bluffs was three miles offshore. Selectman Michael Santoro asked why sand could not be mined closer to shore, where it has been clearly building up for years. “It’s very difficult when you get involved in these projects because a lot of the common sense solutions are not acceptable,” Ms. Hughes said.  “We asked about this, but the Army Corps of Engineers refused.”
Mr. Grunden added that mining sand closer to shore can be counterproductive, as a mass of sand near the shore can help impede wave energy during storms. Moving that sand would remove that benefit.

Speaking as a selectman, Mr. Doty said the town of Chilmark is particularly opposed to mining between the north shore and Cuttyhunk. “The idea that we’ll stand on Menemsha beach and see a 150-foot barge take sand to Hyannis is not acceptable.” he said.
“I don’t think any of us want to see a big operation that could supply Hyannis,” Ms. Barmakian said.

The revised letter from the selectmen will be sent to the CMZ once the 60-day public comment period on (OMP) ends at 5 pm on Tuesday, November 25.
The ocean plan draft is available online at the EEA website, mass.gov/eea/. Comments can be emailed to oceanplan@state.ma.us.

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Longtime Oak Bluffs health agent Shirley Fauteux has indicated that she will retire from her position effective February 14, 2015.  Born in Oak Bluffs and raised in Vineyard Haven, Ms. Fauteux has worked for the town for 22 years. “I’ll miss the people and I’ll miss learning something new every day,” she told The Times.

Reading from the job description she was preparing for the town to post, Ms. Fauteux said her job required knowledge of sanitary codes, septic systems, food codes, farmers markets, seafood handling, Vibrio, medical waste, tanning salons, lead paint, asbestos, emergency preparedness, chemical and biological emergencies, incident command, composting, tick-borne illnesses, school cafeterias, volatile organic compounds, quarantine and communicable diseases.
“Sometimes people forget that the rules are for the good of the public. Enforcing them can be a difficult balance,” she said.

Ms. Fauteux is considering several job offers on the mainland.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour told The Times in an email that the health inspector position will be posted next week.

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Upper Lagoon Pond in Oak Bluffs is a water source for the town.

Following a tempestuous public meeting on September 25 and often acrimonious public debate, the Oak Bluffs board of health Tuesday voted to put the question of whether or not to continue the practice of adding fluoride to the town water supply, as it has since 1991, to voters at April annual town meeting in the form of a non-binding resolution.

Board of health member and chiropractor John Campbell is at the forefront of the fluoride-removal effort. Several Island dentists have spoken in public in favor of the public health benefits of fluoridation.

Irrespective of the April vote, the board of health would be responsible for the decision.

The welcome booth in Oak Bluffs welcomed more people this summer.

The first quarter of fiscal year 2015 was a good one for the town of Oak Bluffs and its business community.
At Tuesday night’s selectmen’s meeting, town administrator Robert Whritenour told the board that estimated receipts for the quarter are up $186,231 over last year. He attributed  the increase to strong harbor receipts — which does not include the new fuel facility — and to increased local estimated receipts from restaurants and hotels.
Oak Bluffs Association president Dennis daRosa said the business community had an exceptional summer. According to Mr. daRosa, information booth manager John Newsom reported that over 45,000 visitors requested assistance at the booth in July and August this year, a 30 percent increase over last year. There were also record crowds at Harborfest in June and Tivoli Day in September, with almost double the number of vendors of both events.

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Mares eat oats and does eat oats and goats eat grass at the library.

Four-month-old goat Hazel, a Goatscape Scapegoater munches leaves during a brief demonstration at the Oak Bluffs library. –Photos by Michael Cummo

Last Saturday morning, outside the Oak Bluffs Library, three goats on leashes demonstrated to the large turnout of grown-ups and (mostly) little kids that these long-necked, silky-haired creatures are super-friendly. One in particular, a 4-month-old goat-doll named Hazel, made a dash toward this reporter as if we’d known each other forever. On the other hand, she may have mistaken my notepad for a sandwich.

Because, boy, oh boy, do these critters love to eat!

Seven-year-old Dillon Fondren pets Jane, one of the Scapegoats goats.
Seven-year-old Dillon Fontren pets Jane, one of the Scapegoats goats.

“He’s like a personal vacuum,” said Tisbury second grader Dillon Fontren about a horned white goat named Billy, who never for a moment stopped crunching grass, twigs, and leaves, even setting his hooves high on his handler’s chest to access tendrils up on trees.

And that’s the whole point of the business called Scapegoats Goatscaping, owned by Joe van Nes and Kristine Patnugot of West Tisbury, both in their late 20s: For anyone who needs land cleared of unwanted shrubs such as bittersweet and poison ivy, and of volunteer tree sprigs such as black locust and Russian olive, selected goats from the Scapegoats herd of 15, at the rate of $20 per day per herbivore, can be dispatched to munch till they drop  — which they don’t, apparently.

Kristine Patnugot, left, and Joe van Nes show off and explain their business, Scapegoats Goatscaping, operating out of West Tisbury.
Kristine Patnugot, left, and Joe van Nes show off and explain their business, Scapegoats Goatscaping, operating out of West Tisbury.

Mother Nature intended for goats to eat endless field greens: They possess four stomachs, each with its own capacity to digest food and send it along to the next part of the processing. They also, like cows, regurgitate and chew again, so that very little escapes a goat’s ability to break it down and run it through the intestinal tract.

A man with a baby girl on his shoulders asked, “Is there anything goats won’t eat?”

Van Nes explained, “They don’t eat leafy evergreens such as rhododendrons, but other than that, they’re pretty omnivorous, as long as it’s plant-based.”

Van Nes also related the long-term effects of several seasons of goatscaping. “Plants grow back, including poison ivy, but over a few treatments, the goats change the terrain. They trample, leave manure, work in the manure, then trample some more. Eventually they build up a super mulch and also block photosynthesis for such plants as poison ivy, until it finally stops growing in that soil.”

Billy the goat jumps on Joe van Nes as Scapegoats Goatscaping co-owner Kristine Patnugot looks on.
Billy the goat jumps on Joe van Nes as Scapegoats Goatscaping co-owner Kristine Patnugot looks on.

While Van Nes answered questions, he held the leashes for chewing machine Billy and the milder Jane, the latter revealing no particular cute personality quirks. Hazel, meanwhile, was ever alert to Patnugot when she pulled banana slices and papaya chunks out of a plastic bag. It was then that Hazel gently smooched it from her keeper’s palm, much like a puppy dog would have done.

The Scapegoat couple also work the female part of the herd for goat milk. Each day’s yield of anywhere from a quart to a gallon and a half reveals flavors from whatever field had been worked over by that goat the day before. Van Nes recommends the healing effects of this leaves-to-milk equation: “I used to landscape, and I got horrific bouts of poison ivy all over my arms and legs. When I started to drink goat’s milk, which, of course, contains filtered amounts of poison ivy, I stopped having bad effects from it.”

Van Nes and Patnugot routinely offer property owners the day’s output in milk from goats working their garden. “It’s delicious!” maintains Van Nes. “And it’s fun for people to learn what their own yard tastes like!”

Billy the goat eats leaves as Jane watches the crowd in front of them.
Billy the goat eats leaves as Jane watches the crowd in front of them.

Van Nes and his parents, Rosemary and Nick, with three acres of land in West Tisbury, have always harbored an interest in livestock. In 2013, son Joe was offered eight goats for free, provided he had no intention of eating them. He took the goats, and found that one was pregnant, thus raising his initial herd to 10. Now that he has 15 goats, he and his father have built a large pen on the latter’s land.

Meanwhile, back in 2011, Van Nes met Patnugot in a grocery store in Brooklyn. The young woman had grown up in Michigan, and pursued filmmaking and photography in L.A., D.C., and N.Y.C. “I guess I like places with initials for names!” she said cheerfully. Once happily ensconced with Van Nes on the Island, her boyfriend invited her to join him in the goat business this past year. “I take care of all the media work,” she added.

The two of them have quickly made a sustainable business of goat tending, with enough income left over for winter feed and vet bills.

A woman in the crowd asked Patnugot if goats were as friendly and affectionate as dogs. The answer was an emphatic, “Yes! Especially if you raise them to trust you and like you, and if you treat them with respect.”

One look in Hazel’s pale gold eyes, and a time-out with her when she let herself be stroked up and down her long thin neck with an oak twig, made it crystal-clear that these animals are hands-down favorites of the barnyard set.

For more information about Scapegoats Goatscaping, contact Joe and Kristine for a consultation at goatsgottafeed@gmail.com.

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Tivoli Day is Saturaday. Photo by Lynn Christoffers.

The Oak Bluffs Association will hold its annual Tivoli Day celebration this Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm on Circuit Avenue. There will be live outdoor music all day, as well as food and retail vendors set up on the street, and special sales and events in nearby Oak Bluffs stores. Circuit Avenue will be closed to traffic during the event, which celebrates the end of the summer and the beginning of the Island’s shoulder season. For more information, visit oakbluffsmv.com.