Trustees of Reservations turns 50 at Wasque

Members and employees of the Trustees pay tribute to the woman responsible for helping to preserve Wasque.

Wasque is surreal. After turning down another dirt road on Chappaquiddick, dust kicking up behind, you emerge from thin evergreens onto a place that looks like it should be a secret. Down the hill, the mecca of a beach stretches over 200 acres. The cars, the white tent, and the families picnicking on blankets in celebration of the preservation have a sinful irony, like no rock should be out of place — but they are the reason it remains untouched.

“There’s no question this would have been have prime for development,” said Chris Kennedy, superintendent of the Trustees. On this day, Mr. Kennedy floats from greeting to greeting under the tent.

“Wasque is important to many people and creatures, 200 acres — it’s a humbling experience sleeping at night and hearing waves slamming,” said Mr. Kennedy.

Descendants of the Chappaquiddick Wampanoag tribe attended, representing the tribe’s historic relationship with the land. Chappaquiddick means “the separated island” in Algonquin — without it Edgartown’s history as a whaling port might not exist. Settlers and missionaries swam across “the swimming hole” with livestock where the weakest current flowed. Natives controlled Chappaquiddick for a full century after the first white settlers arrived.

The Massachusetts southern shoreline went up for sale in sections of 10,000-square-foot lots after being subdivided during the 19th century. Signs of development started to leak into the northern boundary.

By July of 1968, a woman named Mary P. Wakeman pushed a campaign to preserve Wasque. She stated a goal of $170,000 over three years to preserve the headland — in less than a year the campaign managed to raise nearly $150,000 by donations from 840 people. One donation came with a note reading, “From a native, born not far from Wasque.”

As protection, the project committee divided Wasque into five parcels to transfer to the Trustees gradually. They had a strategy — if funds fell short, the remaining parcels could be withheld and sold to raise the cash. Ms. Wakeman was documented saying, “I don’t think we’ll have trouble raising what we want.” And they didn’t.

Two women wearing floral wreaths on their heads attended the celebration last Thursday — Leslie Self and Linda Anderson, granddaughters of Ms. Wakeman. The wreathes nestled in their hair commemorated her efforts, and are based on a photo of Ms. Wakeman wearing a floral wreath of her own. The photo sat framed on a table in the center of the tent. Archives from The Trustees of Reservations document Ms. Wakeman, the secretary and treasurer of the organization at the time, answering every donation personally, cataloguing the stories of donations.

“I’ve been coming to the Island my whole life — I used to play on the hill near the lighthouse,” said Ms. Anderson. “She was a woman way ahead of her time in terms of conservation — a real pioneer.”