Updated June 5
The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission has begun construction of a wire mesh fence along the perimeter of Trade Winds Field Preserve in Oak Bluffs, known by frequent users as simply Tradewinds.
The wire mesh is held up by wooden posts set along the preserve. Land Bank maintenance crew members spent several hours Thursday morning completing part of the fence, with the hope of having the fence and gates completed within the next two weeks.
The fence will close off the current path many pedestrians stroll through and walk their dogs on. A new trail system has been created along the perimeter of the fence.
The construction of the fence has been a topic of hot debate for the past 20 years, as the Land Bank has tried to find an equilibrium with dog owners.
The Land Bank has tried to educate the public on the damage dogs and foot traffic can do to the preserve by placing signs along the trails. “It was really the amount and the repeated use of the property that we were trying to discourage. The fence was a last resort, getting people to stay on the trail system,” Julie Russell, Land Bank ecologist, said in a phone conversation with the Times.
The 71.8 acres of land is a sandplain grassland, a unique type of grassland home to many rare species of flora and fauna such as the purple tiger beetle, purple needlegrass, northern blazing star, and sandplain blue-eyed grass.
When asked why planes can land on the grassland, Russell told the Times, it had to with the frequency of habitat disturbance; some is good, but too much can be harmful. Tradewinds is a federally recognized airfield, but is an “uncontrolled airport,” which means it does not have the same regulations as an airport with a control tower, according to Mike Nagle, who helps manage planes landing at Tradewinds. Each year, pilots must apply to the Land Bank for a permit to land at Tradewinds. This year, the Land Bank has approved nine pilots; the permit allows them to land and take off as many times as they wish, until the license expires on Dec. 31. The Land Bank does not keep a record of the number of landings and takeoffs at Tradewinds, according to Land Bank fiscal officer Cindy Krauss. The big tires and light weight of the planes “don’t have the same impact people do,” Russell said of people, who can go to the preserve daily, “When you step down you dig in with your foot. A tire doesn’t have that kind of impact.”
Rita Brown, a public user of the trails, felt people had used the path for many years and there was never a problem. “I think it’s a real shame that this beautiful vista is being fenced. It’s an outrageous shame,” she said.
Similarly, Phil Cordella, another frequenter of the trails, was not impressed with the fence. “It’s an abomination,” he said. “I truly feel a human element is missing, to disrupt the type of enjoyable use of a lot of people from different towns; it’s very upsetting.”
The Land Bank commissioners, executive director Jim Lengyel, land superintendent Ian Peach, and ecologist Julie Russell fielded a barrage of questions from frustrated Tradewinds walkers during a public comment section at a meeting at the West Tisbury library Monday.
Several of the walkers were taken aback by the $65,000 price tag of the fence project, and the fact that none of the commissioners had been to the property since the construction of the fence began.
The walkers expressed safety concerns, saying parts of the new path led to undeveloped trail area, tick-infested areas, and had limited access in case of an emergency. Concerns over birds using the wooden posts and carrying in invasive species were raised because chemicals might be used. Land Bank chairwoman Priscilla Sylvia explained the Land Bank would maintain the property and never use chemicals, instead hand-pulling any weeds or invasives that might grow near the posts.
“I’m basically here to plead with your senses and to stop the fence now before it goes much longer,” Cordella said.
Peach explained several gates would be put in at the trail heads and near the airplane hangar. Registered pilots, emergency personnel, and maintenance crews would be the only ones given access through the gates.
After 35 minutes of public comment, Sylvia gave repeated warnings that commenting would have to end due to a Land Bank budget meeting, but many of the walkers demanded the Land Bank owed them at least half an hour more.
“The thing that’s the most frustrating is the fact that it has improved so drastically in the last three or four years, not only as a result of improved user compliance,” Oak Bluffs resident Mark Jenkins said at the meeting. “The decision to build the fence was not, ‘This place is going to hell, we have to build a fence,’ the decision was, ‘This place is improving drastically, and you know what, we’re just going to go ahead and build a fence.’ It seemed like the Land Bank was in a corner and felt like we’re just going to go ahead and bust through this, because you know what, opinion’s against us, but we see this small window to do this.”
The decision was defended by Land Bank officials. “The Land Bank’s top goal is environmental protection, and that’s a fence that has been used elsewhere across Martha’s Vineyard with great success, both practically and scenically. The management plan is being implemented according to its terms,” Lengyel said.
Despite public disdain, the Land Bank stood by the fence, saying after rerouting parking, rerouting trails, and putting up educational signs, nothing seemed to be working, and the fence was there to stay.
“We’re not trying to push you up against things,” Peach said. “The fence is where it is, period. You may not like the fence, but we can offer you a place to walk.”
Updated with Monday’s Land Bank meeting. – Ed.