Southern Woodlands campground hits snooze button

The two-acre “primitive” campground will be accessible only on foot or by bicycle. — Map Courtesy of Land Bank

Last fall, it appeared that a long-dormant plan to create a campground in the Southern Woodlands Reservation in Oak Bluffs had come back to life when the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the design and operation of a “primitive campground” on two acres on the eastern edge of the 234-acre property, as described in the 2011 Southern Woodlands Management Plan.

The RFP issued Oct. 28 called for at least 40 campsites on the “low-impact” campground, to be accessible only by foot or by bicycle, and located near the County Road boundary of the property in order to provide easy access to one of the Island’s most heavily trafficked bicycle trails.

The RFP also stipulated that the seasonal campground would have showering facilities, a common water source, onsite manager, toilet facilities with minimal nitrogen flow, and that the Land Bank would incur little, if any, financial burden.

The RFP contained a Feb. 5 deadline; only one person, Nicholas Catt of Oak Bluffs, owner of Airport Laundromat, responded. His plan did not make the cut.

“We rejected it and sent it back,” Priscilla Sylvia, Land Bank commissioner from Oak Bluffs, told The Times. “The length of the requested lease [20 years] was a problem, and it needed much, much more detail.”

James Lengyel, Land Bank executive director, said the commission asked Mr. Catt to halve his proposed 20-year term. He and conservation lands foreman Matthew Dix met with Mr. Catt, who said he would decide whether or not he would submit a revised business plan by Jan. 1, 2017.

Mr. Lengyel said he wasn’t surprised by the underwhelming response to the campground RFP. “This is an unusual business,” he said. “There’s not many people that do it.”

Warring camps

For many years, the 84-acre Webb’s campground overlooking Lagoon Pond was a haven for people looking for a no-frills Vineyard vacation. More than 18 years ago, a Connecticut development group purchased the campground as the nucleus of a championship golf club, which spurred a long-running and divisive land use battle. Although Webb’s had been on the market for more than a decade when it was sold, opponents of the golf club rallied under the banner, “Save Webb’s.”

The Conservation Partnership, a consortium of Island conservation groups, committed to raise more than $1 million in support of efforts to take Webb’s by eminent domain, an option voters rejected.The Down Island Golf Club, rejected by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), was never built. Ultimately, the battle and lawsuits ended in 2004 when the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank agreed to purchase the majority of the property, known as the Southern Woodlands, from developer Corey Kupersmith for $18 million.

Although the proposed low-impact campground was approved in 2011, the idea fell by the wayside soon after. “We thought a bike-in-only campground would be a great idea. But after a series of hearings, it didn’t go anywhere,” Matthew Dix, conservation lands foreman for the Land Bank, told The Times in a previous interview.

“It wasn’t a main focus at the time,” Kerry Scott, former selectman, told The Times in an earlier interview. “We all would have welcomed it; nobody furthered it. I assumed it wasn’t financially viable.”

Mr. Lengyel said a story published in The Times this past August, “Oak Bluffs public campground was approved and forgotten,” which described the history of the proposal and lack of action, prompted Oak Bluffs Land Bank board members to light a fire under the campground idea, and the subsequent RFP went out in October.

“This hasn’t been done before on the Vineyard, so we’ll be interested to see what kind of responses we get,” Mr. Lengyel said at the time.