Over the past 20-plus years, finding a balance between conservation and recreation at Trade Wind Fields Preserve — “Tradewind” in local parlance — has been a fraught, and at times contentious, process. Tradewind is owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission.
Over the years, the 71.8-acre parcel, which has an operational grass airstrip, has become a de facto town square where dogs and humans socialize on a daily basis. An informal but close-knit group has evolved over the years, which has its own Facebook page, Tradewind, with 311 members. Tradewind is the most used Land Bank property, according to Matthew Dix, Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank foreman.
For years, Mr. Dix has tried to educate dog owners about the ecological damage the land — classified as a sandplain rescue zone — has sustained from increasing dog-walking traffic. The goal was to get people and their pooches to stick to the two miles of Land Bank trails that ring the property, and to stop them from crossing on the trails that bisect the runway and the taxiway.
The preserve land is home to rare flora and fauna, three of which — New England blazing star, sandplain blue-eyed grass, and purple tiger beetle — are designated as species of “special concern” by the National Heritage Endangered Species Program (NHESP), and also by purple needlegrass, which is classified as “threatened.” The New England blazing star was just discovered at Tradewind this summer, by Land Bank biologist Julie Russell.
The topics of discussion currently trending at Tradewind are the new gates that have been installed at the County Road entrance, and rumor of a fence to be installed along the rare habitat perimeter.
On Thursday, Mr. Dix told The Times that the new gates have been installed so that maintenance work can be unimpeded and done safely.
“When we try to do any physical work in that parking area, you can’t bring a machine in there without someone parking behind you or walking behind you with a dog,” he said. “The most dangerous thing is when we grade the road with people driving in there. We’re going to advertise maintenance work a few days in advance and lock it the night before.”
Mr. Dix said the entrance area to both trails is going to be expanded so people and dogs can gather there, rather than in the parking lot. A bigger signboard will also be installed. The two trails from the parking lot will be merged so there will be only one entrance to the preserve area.
“I want to streamline the whole thing and have a better way to display information,” he said. “We have a lot of information to tell people, which I know some people don’t want to hear, but it does need to be posted.”
Mr. Dix confirmed that the Land Bank is in the design and permitting phase for a fence that will enclose the runway areas.
The fence will be a low-slung post and wire fence, the kind typically used on pastures with grazing animals, which Mr. Dix said will be barely visible.
“As we discussed at the hearings, an actual physical barrier will be the only thing that will enforce the rules that have been established,” he said. “We have to get [NHESP] to agree this is the right thing to do.”
The fence was approved as part of the Land Bank Management Plan, according to Land Bank Executive Director James Lengyel. “Whenever we adopt a management plan, we hold a public hearing,” he said. “Since then we’ve had a lot of attendance at our public meetings.”
The Land Bank posts meeting notices on its website, and informs each town clerk.
Mr. Lengyel acknowledged there will be blowback from disgruntled dog owners, but he said the move is consistent with the Land Bank’s mission.
“The Land Bank wants things to flourish,” he said. “At Tradewind we want three specific things to flourish. No. 1, the hikers’ experience of the property; No. 2, the pilots’ use of the grass strip airport; and No. 3, we want the grassland habitat to flourish. This fence is going to allow all three to flourish. The goal of the Land Bank here has not been particular stems on particular species. We want the whole grassland habitat to be healthy and well.”
Although all of the Natural Heritage–protected species inhabit considerable range outside the state, all have experienced significant decline in Massachusetts. “Something might be common in Georgia, but here they’re at the end of their range, and that’s what the commonwealth is seeking to protect,” Mr. Lengyel said.
The fence is also intended to address the safety issue of dogs and their owners recreating on an active airport runway. In the past, dog walkers have argued that airplanes land at Tradewind with the frequency of a lunar eclipse. Mr. Lengyel said a Land Bank aviation subcommittee was formed this spring to investigate. “They reported back that the way Tradewind is currently structured makes it hard for pilots to contemplate using it,” he said. “So a fence will allow for this use, in addition to the hiking use. I’m told Tradewind has a particular value to pilots because it doesn’t fog in as much as the main airport or Katama airport do.”
Even with an increase in airplane landings, Ms. Russell said, the flora and fauna will fare fine. “There is an equal number of rare species at Katama Airfield, which is much busier than Tradewind, and they do just fine,” she said. “Soft airplane tires don’t damage habitat like concentrated foot traffic.”
Mr. Dix said the dog waste stations will still be maintained. He said the high rate of cleanup compliance was evident in the fact that the Land Bank carts off about 80 pounds of dog waste per week.
Dog owners disobey
Over the years, different measures have been taken to stop people from crossing the runways and getting them to stay on the perimeter trails.
Mr. Dix tried various forms of signage to inform people why the runway and taxiway are off-limits. The first signs gently asked people not to cross, with detailed ecological explanations. They were ineffective.
A subsequent series of “DO NOT ENTER” signs inflamed more than they informed. They were often uprooted, and their message was often dismissed.
As The Times reported in a Nov. 5, 2014, article, “Land Bank seeks to curb dog walkers at Trade Wind Fields Preserve,” Mr. Dix held a series of meetings with dog owners to explain the rationale behind the Land Bank policy.
Although the conversations were cordial, subsequent signage was also plucked from the sandplain soil, and the message frequently ignored.
Early this year, a “User’s Guide” was handed out to dog owners, showing the species of flora and fauna that inhabit the runway and taxiway areas at Trade Winds. The “User’s Guide” stated, “Keep in mind that Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission allows people to walk their dogs on this property but does not consider Trade Wind Fields Preserve to be a dog park.”
“Rules of Use” were posted and distributed to dog owners. In addition to restating the runway and taxiway policy, dog walkers were reminded to pick up after their pooches and to properly dispose of the bags. The Land Bank added more doggie-bag stations, and maintains them.
A new “three strikes” policy was also explained in the “Rules of Use.” First offense is a “friendly reminder,” second offense is a warning, and a third offense results in a call to Oak Bluffs Police, “who will respond and cite you for trespass.” According to Massachusetts state law, the maximum penalty for trespassing on private property is a $100 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
This past February, the Land Bank hired a part-time monitor, Patty Culkins of Edgartown, to step into the breach and be the bearer of the “friendly reminder.”
On Thursday, Mr. Dix said the presence of a monitor had only limited impact because of Ms. Culkin’s limited hours.
“What’s the point of spending $12,000 on a part-time person when we could put up a fence and be done with the whole thing?” he said.
In a previous interview with The Times, Mr. Dix took some responsibility for the current conundrum. “It’s my fault for not stopping this 15 years ago when it really started to snowball,” he said. “There weren’t many dogs here until around 1996, maybe 20 people a day. Now, Trade Wind is by far the most used Land Bank property on a year-round basis.”
The Land Bank paid $2.75 million for the property in 1989, deconstructing the plans of developers Ed Jigarjian and Joe Esco, who intended to build 32 condos, a clubhouse with indoor pool, tennis courts, and 12 2,500-square-foot homes.