“For nearly 30 years,” Adam Moore, executive director of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation said, “Bill Bridwell has been the greatest ambassador for Sheriff’s Meadow that we could ever have had.” As a property manager, Bridwell was the face of the organization, often greeting people out on the trails with his friendly smile and his welcoming demeanor.
Bridwell is originally from Indiana, but was introduced to the Vineyard when he was a boy and his family came to stay with his uncle in Edgartown in the summer. If the name “Bridwell” sounds familiar, it’s because Bill’s uncle was none other than Norman Bridwell, the author and cartoonist best known for the “Clifford the Big Red Dog” book series.
“My uncle was a really great guy, very modest and unassuming,” Bridwell said. Norman used to send copies of his books to Bill’s family. “His second book, ‘The Zany Zoo,’ was dedicated to me. It was one of his least successful ones,” Bridwell joked.
Bridwell always loved the Vineyard, and thought eventually he would like to make it his home, so after leaving the University of Evansville in 1979, he moved here. He did a variety of part-time jobs on the Island, including driving a truck for Takemmy Laundry and painting houses.
In the early ’90s, Bridwell began working as a carpenter for Jeff Whipple Construction of Edgartown. “I think Bill had just gone through a divorce, and he was looking for a change,” Whipple said.
While working for Whipple, Bridwell would enroll at a class at the Nathan Mayhew Seminars that was to have a profound impact on his life. “I was interested in working outdoors, so I took a class in biodiversity,” Birdwell said. “I studied with Robert Culbert, who knew Dick Johnson, executive director of Sheriff’s Meadow, so I asked Robert if he could hook me up with Johnson.”
The timing was right: Hurricane Bob had just hit the Island. “Dick was the entirety of Sheriff’s Meadow at that time; he did the office work as well as trail maintenance, and he was looking for help with the properties after the hurricane, so I volunteered for a couple of weeks, and Dick asked me If I’d like a part-time job there.” In 1992 he took the job, splitting his time with Whipple.
Bridwell threw himself into the work at Sheriff’s Meadow, along with his pickup truck, which he donated to the cause. Bridwell worked side by side with Johnson clearing out invasives, cleaning up, chipping and hauling away massive piles of bittersweet and honeysuckle. Bridwell was the first real property maintenance person Sheriff’s Meadow hired.
For years, Bridwell continued working part-time for Sheriff’s Meadow, “But then in 2008, Adam Moore came along as executive director, and the organization began growing exponentially,” Bridwell said.
Bridwell was brought on full-time, Sheriff’s Meadow got a new truck so Bill no longer had to use his, and a used tractor was donated to the foundation. “It was an open tractor,” Bridwell said, “and lots of the mowing was done in the off-season, so some of those early mornings were — pretty cold!”
Recently the foundation has made a lot of capital improvements, and got a dump truck and a tractor with a heated cab — Bridwell thought he had died and gone to heaven, because by this time SMF had greatly expanded its holdings.
According to its website, “Sheriff’s Meadow now protects 2,900 acres of land across the Island. We own 72 distinct preserves comprising 2,075 acres, and hold 42 conservation restrictions over an additional 825 acres.”
“The properties range from small — no larger than a person’s yard,” Bridwell said, “to Cedar Tree Neck, a vast holding which is the jewel of the crown.”
Looking back over the years at Sheriff’s Meadow, Bridwell says that one of the things that has changed the most are the summer benefit fundraisers.
“When we first started, there would be 40 or 50 guests in one of the board member’s backyards,” Bridwell said. “Now we have catered affairs with over 400 people.”
And one event in particular sticks out in Bridwell’s mind. It was a fundraiser held at Brookside Farm in Chilmark. “It hadn’t rained for nearly two weeks,” Bridwell said, “and an incredible storm moved in, there was a giant cloud that looked like some kind of creature — I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“There was a field for parking cars adjacent to where the benefit was being held,” Adam Moore said, “and it turned into a sea of mud. We had to tow cars out with a tow rope, we had to carry some people to their seats. Bill came up with the idea of having people park over at the Ag Hall and shuttling them in with buses — that was a big help.”
This past December, Bill Bridwell turned 65, and decided to retire from Sheriff’s Meadow. The years of strenuous activity, brush clearing, and building bridges on the trails began to take its toll on Bridwell. “The work is just getting harder on my body than it used to be,” he said.
In honor of his retirement, Kate Feiffer, wife of board member Chris Alley, produced a short video thanking Bridwell for his service. Many of Bridwell’s friends and co-workers sent Bill their best wishes and the video concluded with a heartfelt sentiment from all: “Thank you, Bill!”