Still more to conserve


To the Editor:

The Vineyard Conservation Society would like to express our deep appreciation for the kind letter by Melissa Lawry (“Thank you, Vineyard Conservation Society”) in last week’s Times, which called readers’ attention to our publication, “Walking Trails of Martha’s Vineyard.” Of course, we agree: the pocket-size book is truly a wonderful resource, even more so in these troubled times. But we’d also like to spread those thanks around by telling a bit about the history of the book, and the work it represents. First and foremost, the book’s creator, former staffer and longtime friend Will Flender, deserves a huge thank-you for his years of work on the project. While it may be a labor of love for Will, it is still a lot of labor.
We also want to extend our thanks to the conservation groups who shared their maps and other information for the project. As an advocacy group, VCS has over the decades helped shepherd many of the properties you see in the book to a conservation outcome. But it is those capable landholding organizations that manage and maintain them, both for public walking trails and as natural resources that sustain our Island’s environment. Collectively, private nonprofits, including Mass Audubon, Polly Hill Arboretum, Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, The Trustees, and Vineyard Open Land Foundation, along with our publicly funded M.V. Land Bank, town governments, and the state Department of Conservation of Recreation, should be thanked for ensuring that these lands provide the ongoing benefits of open space that we all enjoy.

Finally, we would be remiss not to note the ongoing importance of conservation efforts today. Ms. Lawry notes an impressive statistic from the book, that 37 percent of the Island’s acreage is under some form of conservation protection. Unfortunately, there is also a less rosy side of the equation. Approximately another third of the Island’s land is already built out, while another third is currently open space that is available for development.

The implications of that math are striking. As a rough approximation, what we see today as we hike, bike, and drive around this Island is two-thirds open and one-third developed land. Without further conservation efforts, in the future that ratio will be reversed. Another way to visualize it is that our existing fields and woodlands that support wildlife, but also nurture human needs for a connection with nature, will have been cut in half.

Few of us want to see that future vision of Martha’s Vineyard, so we must be careful as a community to steward wisely the ultimate fate of that final third. There is no doubt that our expanding year-round population will necessarily take up some portion of it. But it is also clear that the work of conservation is far from done.

Will Flender’s “Walking Trails of M.V.,” fifth edition, is available at many Island retailers, including Bunch of Grapes and Edgartown Books, or can be ordered (plus $5 extra for shipping) on the VCS website. 

Jeremy Houser
On behalf of Vineyard Conservation Society