To the Editor:
A few years ago my husband, Drew, and I adopted a 6-month-old puppy from the M.V. Animal Shelter. Rosie was full of energy, sort of housebroken, willful and socially disobedient — in other words, a puppy. We hired a dog trainer, who suggested we take her to the “dog park” in Oak Bluffs to help Rosie get socialized. While not an official dog park like the one in Vineyard Haven, Tradewinds was known as a place where dog lovers met and walked daily.
In the fall of 2016 we started our daily trek into O.B. — sometimes twice a day. Rosie frolicked and ran with the other dogs, tiring herself out, learning from the other dogs how to behave. Within weeks our crazy Labrador retriever puppy had calmed down, was listening to us, and had loads of dog friends at the park. Drew and I found ourselves being invited to Super Bowl parties, meeting friends every day to walk, and enjoying our new social circle. Making new friends in your 40s isn’t always the easiest thing to accomplish. Most of these folks have been walking Tradewinds for the past 20 years. We felt proud to become a part of this longstanding Island fellowship.
In the spring of 2017, newer signs were posted throughout the park — reminders to stay only on the paths, info on the endangered grasses and beetles residing in the fields, requests to pick up after your dog. Totally reasonable and understandable in my book — this was a Land Bank property, and their job is conservation. It was stated that while the dogs could roam into the park, owners must stay on the paths. I assumed it was part of annual park maintenance.
Then a month later, signs appeared telling us that a daily patroller was being sent to the park by the Land Bank to enforce the rules posted on the signs. I’m an adult capable of reading and following a sign, but clearly the Land Bank didn’t think so. At the time, I recall wondering, Why doesn’t the Land Bank engage volunteer patrollers from us “dog parkers” to help enforce the rules? There were so many of us who came daily and cared about the park. But that wasn’t the tack the Land Bank chose. We were told that if we violated the rules three times we would be banned from the park. The morning and afternoon groups continued to meet for daily walks, making jokes about being “thrown in the pokey” for stepping off the path. The feeling in the park had turned bitter. We chatted with the new patroller, and ensured her that we were following all the rules. The fields recovered remarkably.
Soon after that the Land Bank announced plans to build a fence. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Tradewinds, but it is a wide-open sandplain with a long and expansive vista similar to the fields in Katama. A fence? I was outraged. Wide-open spaces is one of the things I cherish about this Island. There were meetings, and articles in the local papers, and a lot of planning and discussion by the fellowship of the “dog park.” I became involved. A list of discussion points was compiled by the dog parkers and sent to the Land Bank. But the Land Bank was like a wall. There was no discussion allowed, no negotiation to be had. At that point I read between the lines, and concluded for myself what the Land Bank wasn’t saying out loud — they no longer wanted Tradewinds to be a “dog park.” They wanted the dogs, and their owners, gone.
Defeated and saddened, Drew and I stopped going to Tradewinds, and found other places to play with Rosie and meet other dog owners. I had come to love the wide-open space of the park, but who wants to spend time in a place they clearly aren’t welcome? It was a bummer for us.
I hadn’t been to Tradewinds for almost a year. When I recently saw the photos posted of the new fence posts sunk at Tradewinds, I was appalled. Intentionally placed on the outside or in the middle of the current path system, the posts will force visitors at the park into the brush of the woods (ticks, anyone?), and at other points so close to County Road that it’s unsafe. The fencing was installed this past week, and the effect is uglier than I could imagine. What was once a beautiful open vista is now an overmanaged eyesore. The Oak Bluffs Land Bank advisory board voted 5-1 to delay this project. What did the Land Bank do? They went ahead and started building a fence. I’m no math wizard, but 5-1 is a pretty clear directive. Does the Land Bank operate outside of town governance?
The Land Bank refused to hear from a group of concerned citizens who actually utilize the property. They heard from the town of Oak Bluffs, and went against their wishes. Who’s in charge here? A few years back, there was sweeping political change in this country. At the time I was amazed how it all happened. But my experience with the Land Bank over the past few years makes it pretty clear — when a group of people feel bullied by what they perceive is abusive governance, they go for change. I don’t know if this is the first in a long line of Land Bank abuses, or if they’ve pulled this kind of nonsense before, but one thing is sure — they’ve lost my vote of confidence. Something’s rotten in Denmark.
But my emotional feelings aside, there is actual legal standing here. The 1985 legislative act that created the Land Bank states, “Section 6: … With respect to any such real property interest, the Land Bank Commission shall not permit any of the following without the approval of the town advisory board of the town or towns in which such real property is located and without the approval of the secretary of environmental affairs: (a) construction or placing of buildings, roads, signs, billboards, or other advertising utilities or other structure on or above the surface.” They did not have approval of the town advisory board. That’s for certain.
If you are a nature-oriented person and live on the Island, I strongly encourage you to walk through Tradewinds so you can see for yourself how your 2 percent tax on home sales is being spent. I thought the Land Bank was put in place to protect open spaces. The vista is gone, the use of the park by dog owners is ruined, and an opportunity to civically engage the lovers and users of their most visited property is lost. A lose-lose-lose situation.
So the endangered beetles and grasses of the Tradewinds sandplain will be protected by a big ugly fence. I suppose the Land Bank sees this as a victory. But what’s to become of the fellowship of islanders who have been visiting that wide-open space for the past 20 years? They seem the more endangered.