In 2010, a group of neighbors living near Sunset Lake in Oak Bluffs had an idea to improve the lake. Eleven years later, that idea has become a reality.
Early Monday morning, the Friends and Neighbors of Sunset Lake (FANS), along with other stakeholders, gathered for a small groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction and renovation at the lake.
For much of its existence, the lake was a saltwater estuary until the construction of Lake Avenue split the pond from Oak Bluffs Harbor. The lake was known for its swan paddleboats and crabbing, but over the years it began to decline, and was plagued by invasive plant species, flooding, erosion, and nitrogen loading.
“Our first meeting was with Liz [Durkee] and Joan [Hughes], and they were very excited to talk to us,” FANS president Donna Hayes said. “I remember Joan saying, ‘This is amazing, this is just what the Community Preservation cCommittee is looking for, and you have three weeks to write a grant.’”
Hayes, a registered nurse, said she knew nothing about conservation, but with the help of FANS, former conservation agent Liz Durkee, and conservation commission chair Joan Hughes, a grant was written. In total, the project has raised $725,000 in Community Preservation committee (CPC) funding through three separate requests at town meetings.
After engineering a design with Sandwich-based Horsley Witten for both around the lake and the abutting Lakeside Park, FANS decided it would be better to focus first on the lake.
“We needed to concentrate on a smaller area, accomplish something, you know, boots on the ground, complete it, and then work on this. The hill is a big project,” Hayes said.
The project was set to begin in March 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the setback, Luciano’s Excavation project manager Eric Mangasarian kept the project on his radar, and a year later it is officially beginning.
Hayes thanked town voters, the Community Preservation committee, the conservation commission, the parks department, the select board, the shellfish department, the highway department, the wastewater department, the Oak Bluffs Business Association, the historic district commission, and the arts district.
Hayes said the project should be completed by June 15, and will include a bioretention garden to help with road runoff and flooding, a pathway constructed around the lake, removal of invasive plant species along the shore, replanting native plants, two new plazas with bike racks, and dog waste bag stations.
Parks commissioner Amy Billings thanked FANS for its work in making the project happen.
“The parks commission, the conservation commission, we couldn’t pull off half these projects that get done around town without the community,” Billings said.
With the lake portion underway, Hayes said FANS now has its eyes set on Lakeside Park, the grassy hill area facing the lake.
“It’s just such a special place,” Hayes, whose home overlooks the lake, said. “Ocean Park is the vista from the ferry, but coming from Vineyard Haven, this is the gateway to Oak Bluffs, and we’re trying to make it look better.”