South Road detour in effect for Obama Vineyard vacation

South Road will be closed to all vehicle traffic between Meeting House Road and Wooton Bassett Road during the president's visit. Only abutters and emergency vehicles will be allowed to pass security check points. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Martha’s Vineyard residents who have grown accustomed to the temporary disruptions of presidential vacation motorcades to the golf course and the beach can expect extraordinary and lengthy up-Island detours, after President Barack Obama and his family arrive Saturday.

The Secret Service will close South Road to all vehicle traffic near the president’s vacation compound on Snail Road beginning about 2 pm, Saturday afternoon.

Only abutters and emergency vehicles will be allowed to pass through security check points between Meeting House Road to the east and Wooton Bassett Road to the west, for the duration of the Obamas’ vacation, from August 10 to 18.

In a telephone conversation with The Times late Tuesday, Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi confirmed the planned closing. Chief Cioffi said online message boards and signs will be used to redirect traffic.

Mr. Cioffi said the closing is subject to modification and could change during the week, but Islanders and their guests should be prepared to detour and plan accordingly.

The Secret Service security team is responsible for all security arrangements. Chief Cioffi said he recommended ways to modify the plan to make it more flexible, but the Secret Service had the last word.

“I participated in tabletop exercises of different plans, and in the end the Secret Service decided that the safest plan for the president and his family is to close the road and only allow neighbors access,” he said. “When all is said and done, our department will do whatever is needed to support the Secret Service in any way we can. We’ll make the best of it. I’m sure Islanders will do the same.”

South Road, Middle Road and North Road are the three main up-Island arteries. Middle Road, with its sharp curves, hills and scenic vistas, is off-limits to tour buses and is the least traveled of the three.

Vehicle drivers traveling west, or up-Island, would have the option to detour over the dirt Meeting House Road to Middle Road. North Road is the recommended detour for large vehicles and trucks, Mr. Cioffi said.

It is unclear if Island police departments will be asked to staff security checkpoints, a request that would strain summer resources. That is still under discussion, Mr. Cioffi said.

The unusual security arrangement — this marks the first road closing associated with a president’s visit — is related to the president’s choice of a vacation house, this one far less secluded than his previous rental.

In 2009, 2010, and 2011, the Obamas rented Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark, a 28.5-acre compound on Town Cove, off Tisbury Great Pond, and situated at the end of a long dirt road.

Blue Heron was sold in December 2011 to an architect, Lord Norman Foster, and his wife, Lady Elena Foster, of Thames Bank in Great Britain.

This summer, the Obamas will stay in a 5,000-square-foot, four-bedroom house valued at $7.6 million, with an attached, two-bedroom guesthouse, small basketball court, and water views, surrounded by woods just a short distance off South Road.

David M. Schulte, owner of the house, is the founder and managing partner of Chilmark Partners, a Chicago-based corporate finance and restructuring advisory company. The former editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, before founding Chilmark Partners, Mr. Schulte created and ran Salomon Brothers Corporate Reorganization Group.

Five houses made the short list of vacation getaways, according to sources familiar with the planning. The list included houses in more remote Island locations and at least one house in the Boldwater subdivision on Edgartown Great Pond. The president chose the Schulte house, off South Road house.

Chilmark selectman Warren Doty expressed his unhappiness Tuesday with the road closing. He made his remarks at the meeting of the town selectmen. On Wednesday, Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll posted a notice in the front of town hall advising “anyone aggrieved” by the planned closing to call or email the White House.

Mr. Obama and his family have vacationed in Chilmark every year since his 2008 election, except for 2012, when he was campaigning for re-election.

If past presidential vacations hint at future performance, the Obamas will continue to do what many vacationing families do when they are here. They will go to the beach while dad plays golf, bike, hike, and enjoy dinner with friends.

The Obama vacation falls during one of the busiest parts of the summer. In addition to the annual Agricultural Fair, the Oak Bluffs fireworks, and Illumination Night at the Campground, the Boston Globe reports that Harry Belafonte will perform at an invitation-only event at Dreamland theater in Oak Bluffs on August 12, an event that’s being organized by Charles Ogletree, Mr. Obama’s former professor at Harvard Law School.