The Manuel F. Correllus State Forest lies in the geographical center of Martha’s Vineyard, a 5,343-acre expanse of native scrub oak, pitch pine, and assorted introduced species that include white pine, and for years stands of dying red pine, evidence of a failed effort to create a harvestable lumber plantation.
The state forest was created in 1908 in an effort to provide a refuge for the heath hen, which disappeared from the face of the earth when the conservation effort proved to be too little too late. Although it failed in its original purpose, over the past century the state forest has provided a refuge for Vineyarders and visitors — walkers, runners, bicyclists, and, in season, hunters — anyone seeking a quiet, easily accessible corner of the Island uninterrupted by development.
However, when compared with other conservation properties under the management of Island-based organizations, the state forest has failed to live up to its potential as an important recreational and conservation asset. In part, this is because the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) cannot afford to devote the attention or resources needed. The state forest is just there, a large expanse of mostly impenetrable tangle of scrub oak crisscrossed by trails and roadways maintained as best they can be by one hard-working, devoted superintendent.
Two years ago, Ginny Dautreuil was named Island Forest and Parks supervisor, solely responsible for the state forest. For two years, Ms. Dautreuil told reporter Barry Stringfellow, she rented in Falmouth and commuted, one of a number of members of the Island workforce who now call the mainland home. This week we learn that she will leave for a job in another part of the state where housing will not be such a challenge, another victim of a housing market where those who form the bedrock of our community are unable to afford to live.
Ms. Dautreuil arrived on the Island to fill the job held for 26 years by the widely respected John Varkonda, who died unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve, 2013, at age 55. Ms. Dautreuil is only the third person, and first woman, to hold the post. The first was Manuel F. Correllus, for whom the forest is named.
Ironically, there is a house in the state forest that functions as an office and headquarters. It would seem only natural that DCR would renovate the house so it could be used to provide housing. Having the person responsible for the state forest living onsite would provide innumerable benefits, but as far as we can learn, that is not in the offing.
Asked about a replacement for Ms. Dautreuil, a DCR spokesman said, “Currently, the Department of Conservation and Recreation is reviewing the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest Supervisor position, and the search for a replacement is ongoing.”
The spokesman, who responded on background, did not answer a question about use of the house for supervisor housing.
In other words, the state is in no rush to hire her replacement. Or invest much money in an expanse of woodland for which there has been a lot of talk but not much action.
The last major effort occurred in 2009 when DCR contracted to remove dead and dying red pines as part of a three-year, 237-acre “emergency ecological restoration project.” The project was intended to restore native trees such as pitch pine and scrub oak, and reduce wildfire risks and public safety hazards, at a cost of $240,000.
DCR needs to invest in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. One option is to move ahead with finding a new, energetic superintendent who will make the Island his or her home.
But DCR might consider a more innovative approach: Turn over management of the state forest to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, an Island organization with a proven record of management for conservation and recreation. The Land Bank currently manages 3,300 acres with a staff of five, including an ecologist and land manager. Trails are well marked and maintained.
Land Bank policies are set by an elected board of commissioners with representation from each Island town. Adding the state forest to the Land Bank portfolio of properties would provide direct control by Islanders with a vested interest in its management.