The trails of Sailing Camp Park

Come wander alongside the Lagoon.

The new Sailing Camp trails meander through the woods. Courtesy of Oak Bluffs Conservation Commission.

The Sailing Camp Park has a new system of beautifully laid out trails that loop through a peaceful section of mature oak and pine woods above Lagoon Pond, off Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs. The trails will be celebrated with a grand opening on Sunday, June 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. The grand opening will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and music by the brass section of the Vineyard Haven Band, which practices regularly at the Sailing Camp Park; refreshments will be served. Seth Wilkinson of Wilkinson Ecological Design of Orleans will be available to tell people about his green-solutions project for controlling coastal bank erosion. He is restoring a Sailing Camp bank on the Lagoon using “soft engineering” — coir materials and plants with strong roots to hold the bank in place — which will be a model that can be used by other waterfront landowners. A leisurely 20-minute walk will allow you to explore the 2,400 feet, which includes two scenic lookouts –– and it’s all accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The new trails are a project of the Oak Bluffs Conservation Commission, which manages the park. It has come to fruition through the efforts of Liz Durkee, their conservation agent. Liz, who mostly handles regulatory issues that can be complicated or contentious, said recently about the new trails, “I’m so thrilled this is going to be open to the public to enjoy. People don’t realize there are 15 acres of conservation land here. It’s an oasis in the middle of a pretty much year-round neighborhood.” Although the Mainstay building is used for weddings and the Island Theatre Workshop children’s program in the summer, the whole park is open to the public, year-round, whether there are activities happening or not.

The view from the new scenic overlooks, as well as one near the Mainstay, is out over Lagoon Pond to Hine’s Point, out to the drawbridge, and beyond to the ferries and boats in the Sound. From the Mainstay, a shady fern-lined dirt road leads to the beach, where Sail Martha’s Vineyard runs their programs teaching local children and adults to sail, as well as coaching the high school sailing teams. The 1,400 feet of quiet sandy beach is perfect for walking or swimming, especially for families with small children.

Dogs are welcome in the park, and on a sunny day last week, Janet King and her niece Autumn Willoughby were walking Janet’s dog there. When asked what Janet thought of the new trails, she said, “Fabulous! I live on Grovedale, right across the street, and I walk here all the time.” Parking for access to the trails and beach is along the driveway into the Mainstay, and also at a new parking area off Barnes Road, a few hundred feet beyond the main entrance, coming from town.

The property has a long history of recreational use. The Patriots Trail Girl Scout Council ran a sailing camp here beginning in 1931. Campers stayed in tents at campsites connected by trails (which are overgrown now, but may be restored at some point). The new trails will be named after these campsites, which in turn were named for the types of boats the campers sailed: Comet, Kayak, Knockabout, and Dyer Dink.

After the camp closed, the town bought the land in 1983 with a Self-Help Grant from the Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services, and the Vineyard Conservation Society and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation helped with the groundwork. The price was $473,700, with the state paying 80 percent of the cost and the town paying 20 percent. At the time, this was the last available piece of land that fronted the Lagoon Pond that could be bought by the town for conservation, passive recreation, and public access to the Pond. The intent in purchasing the land was also to help preserve the pond, which DEP identifies as an impaired water body. As Liz says, “The town was so wise to buy this when it came on the market. It would have at least 15 septic systems on it.” The Beals and Thomas trail feasibility study, paid for with Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds appropriated by the Oak Bluffs voters in 2013, states the park is in the watershed for both the Lagoon Pond and the Martha’s Vineyard sole-source aquifer.

In 2014, the town approved CPA funds to construct the trails, which White Brothers–Lynch Corp. of Oak Bluffs completed this spring. The trails have a stone dust surface, with grades that don’t exceed 5 percent. No trees were cut for the trails, so they wind pleasantly through the open woods, with a huckleberry understory. This area of Oak Bluffs has little public conservation land or parks, and Barnes Road has no good shoulder for walking, which was one of the main considerations of the Community Preservation Committee when they recommended the project to the annual town meeting.

Trails were always part of the plan, but without CPA funds, the trail construction and the coastal bank restoration, also paid for with a CPA grant, would likely not have happened. Liz said, “I think the CPA is one of the best things that’s happened to the town, because it allows projects that would otherwise be on the back burner forever.” The Conservation Commission is using CPA funds for other much-needed projects, such as engineering to preserve the East Chop Bluff, a work in progress, and Liz may seek future funding for the park for benches, picnic tables, and plantings to shield the view of a neighboring house close to one of the scenic overlooks.

The Island can thank the Oak Bluffs taxpayers for their commitment to the preservation of this important piece of land for conservation and recreation, for the enjoyment of all.

The grand opening is from 10 to 2 on Sunday, June 28, at the Sailing Camp Park on Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs. Representatives from the Children’s Theatre and Sail MV will be on hand to talk about their programs, and Seth Wilkinson will be available from 10 to noon to talk about the coastal bank restoration pilot project. The ribbon-cutting ceremony is at noon, and the Vineyard Haven Band brass section will play from 12:30 to 1:30, at the Mainstay where refreshments will be served. All are welcome.

If you enjoy Lagoon Pond, you should be aware that the health of its water is threatened, and in some areas already in critical condition. You can help by becoming a member of the Lagoon Pond Association (LPA). Hear more about how you can help by attending the LPA annual meeting on Saturday, July 11, at 9 am at Featherstone Gallery, Barnes Road, Oak Bluffs. The meeting will include discussions with town officials regarding septic issues, zoning restrictions, new construction, shellfishing, and boating. Or join online at Membership is only $30 a year, and is tax-deductible.