To the Editor:
Dogs continue to be welcome at the Trade Wind Fields Preserve, on its extensive trail system. The circular path has not been interrupted by the installation of the new fence, which was erected to accomplish the Land Bank’s top priority, that is, protection of the sandplain grassland habitat. This comports with the larger Land Bank philosophy: The institution’s core mission is environmental protection, with public access characterized as a very important, but nonetheless subordinate, goal.
Conflicts between environmental protection and public access arose at Trade Wind nearly two decades ago, and the Land Bank has, since that time, been working to resolve them. In 2001 it prepared a report — Trade Wind Fields Preserve Canine-human Interaction Report — which broached the concept of a protective fence. In 2003 the management plan was updated, in part to identify and sanction various measures, including a fence, that would defend this important area.
I should note that the only thing that the Land Bank asks of its users, on all of its properties across the six towns, is that they confine their use to designated trails. In all of the other properties, visitors have complied, and the properties’ habitats have not been jeopardized. Because of its open configuration, with trails around a wide landscape, compliance has proven impossible at Trade Wind.
The Land Bank has been persistent in seeking to persuade visitors to respect the grassland. Signs were posted, explaining the sandplain’s sensitivity. The Land Bank staff met onsite with users to describe the ecological goals and to field questions. An attendant was hired to roam the preserve and tactfully approach visitors to urge them to stay on the trails.
Nothing worked. We continued to see people leaving the perimeter trail and crossing and recrossing the vulnerable grassland. As a last resort, the Land Bank has accepted that the only way to achieve its conservation goals is to separate the grassland from the recreational trails with a fence.
Available for public review on the Land Bank website are two particular documents. The first is a Nov. 29, 2017, memorandum to the Oak Bluffs advisory board outlining the legal basis for the commission’s actions. The management plan was duly approved by the advisory board and the commonwealth’s environmental affairs secretary, in accordance with both sections three and six of the Land Bank law, thus authorizing the commission to proceed.
The second is an excerpt from the commission’s Dec. 11, 2017, minutes. Trade Wind users attended the meeting and made their case, and commissioners compromised in the fence layout so as to route it in a manner that maximized exposure to the environs of the grassland.
The Dec. 11 public discussion was one of many. There has been no shortage of public meetings where citizens aired their concerns and interests. It should be noted that sandplain habitat cannot speak for itself — that duty falls to the Land Bank Commission.
As for the particular fence design, the Land Bank originally considered a tensile pattern. It was poorly received by users at a public meeting, so the Land Bank conferred with other conservation organizations and settled on an agricultural woven-weave. It happens to be the same design used elsewhere by the commission (participants on June 2’s Cross-Island Hike walked by stretches of it on their trek from Menemsha to Lambert’s Cove Road).
The Land Bank has made two recommendations to Trade Wind visitors. The first is that they should offer suggestions as to additional loop trails and additional benches that could be installed on the preserve for individuals with limited mobility. The second is that they should be seeking out an existing park, in Oak Bluffs or elsewhere, where a dog park can be designed and sited. A dog park in a conservation reservation such as Trade Wind Fields is indeed trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
The following statement, which has appeared on the Land Bank map for many years, summarizes the institution’s reasoning: Neither a sanctuary program nor a park system, the Land Bank is a middle ground where the highest virtues of conservation can be realized: public enjoyment of nature, where limits and restraint secure the natural world’s future and prosperity.
James Lengyel, executive director