The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank put the kibosh on a public proposal to make modifications to its fence at Trade Winds Field Preserve — known as Tradewinds — but offered other suggestions to address public concern. The fence has been a controversial issue between the Land Bank and a community group comprised of dog walkers, hikers, and others that use the trails.
The fence runs along the taxiway and runway of the non-towered airstrip, blocking people from walking through the sandplain grassland habitat. The Land Bank’s reason for constructing the fence was to protect the habitat, its several species of flora and fauna, and to maintain clear runways for the airport.
Phil Cordella, a frequent user of the trail and designer of the WTF signs protesting the fence, submitted a proposal by letter that detailed four recommendations on how to “make mutually agreeable modifications [that] would go a long way to restoring trust and respect.”
The proposal asked to move part of the trail further back from County Road, create two crossover paths with three gates, and remove two portions of the fence near the Harthaven end of the trail.
Land Bank ecologist Julie Russell and land superintendent Ian Peach sent a memorandum to the Land Bank saying the proposal was “not viable” after studying the property, the feasibility of the proposal, and visiting the property with Cordella.
“What is missed is the ability to move about the preserve uninhibited by fencing, thereby creating an easily accessible social interaction among dog walkers. However, the Land Bank cannot sacrifice the long-term value of habitat to short-term considerations,” the memo stated.
During the Land Bank meeting Monday, Cordella went before the commissioners, executive director James Lengyel, Peach, and Russell asking for further explanation of their response to the proposal.
Peach said he was listening to concerns and was working on management upgrades to address issues brought up in Cordella’s proposal, primarily by mowing and clearing trees on one-tenth of an acre of land near the intersection of the runway and taxiway, and installing wooden benches in the area, and a split-rail wooden fence. The area would build upon the regular meeting spot that dog walkers have used as a place to meet and socialize.
“We do care, we’re going to be there no matter what the outcome is. I know the fence is a big change … this isn’t going to offer everything in the proposal, but I think this is a solid step in the right direction for community and a place to be together on the property,” Peach said.
Peach said he is refining the design for the mowed area while Russell completes a plant survey. He will then submit the completed design to MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP), which designates the property as an S1 Rank Habitat, to make sure the alterations are in compliance with the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.
An S1 Rank Habitat is defined as “critically imperiled in Massachusetts — critically imperiled in the state because of extreme rarity (often five or fewer occurrences) or because of some factor(s) such as very few remaining acres or miles of stream or other factors making it especially vulnerable to extirpation from the state,” according to NHESP.
Peach told The Times he is working on the design and expects to submit it within in a week.
The meeting fluctuated between heated exchanges and civil complaints at times as several members of the public voiced concerns over the fence.
“What I loved about it was the openness. It had a fabulous, just nice feeling for walking — that’s gone. Now it looks like a prison,” Lucy Abbott, a frequent Tradewinds user, said.
Rose Cecil, a longtime user of Tradewinds, said the frequent dog walkers and hikers would be respectful of the property. “We don’t feel like there’s any kindness being shown to us,” she said. “Do you ever think about just trying to compromise a little bit with us?”
“I’ve spent $5,000; I’m going to be heard. I’m not going to shut up,” John Krowski, another Tradewinds user, said, adding that the commission paints the trail users as “anticonservation.”
“You’ve had your turn,” chairman Priscilla Sylvia said, asking Krowski to sit down.
“Conservation is the first goal. Passive recreation is secondary or tertiary,” commissioner Mary Robin Ravitch said. “We are legally required to conserve. Obviously on all of our properties, we try to do things to make the properties useful, but where we have to conserve rare species that need to be protected from being trampled, it’s difficult to see how we could do that.”
While the public made its case and voiced its issues, the Land Bank remained steadfast that the fence is here to stay. “We’d like to be friendlier. It took us 15 years to convince the users to obey the rules, and even then it didn’t always work. It’s unfortunate, but even though we sympathize, we cannot accommodate, and that’s the end of it,” Sylvia said.