Chilmark prepares for expected influx of tourists

Officials say festivals, programs, sunsets, and camps can all happen within health guidelines.

The Blessing of the Fleet will return to Menemsha this Memorial Day weekend with proper health guidelines in place. - Rich Saltzberg

On Wednesday, the Chilmark board of health held a joint Zoom meeting with the town’s select board to decide how to handle the upcoming summer tourist season. As COVID restrictions lessen and more people become vaccinated, Chilmark officials prepare for an increase in the number of tourists coming to their part of the Island. 

“It seems that the general attitude of the population is changing, and it’s changing rapidly,” said Warren Doty, a select board member. “We are going to have the pressure of lots and lots of people in Menemsha.” 

During the two-hour meeting, the two boards discussed beach trash, festivals, Menemsha sunsets, camps, and other seasonal events.

One discussion point was trash at Squibnocket and Lucy Vincent beaches. A “carry in, carry home” policy was proposed as a way to deal with trash at the popular beaches. This policy would place the responsibility on beachgoers to take care of the trash they bring. If guests decide to leave their trash or broken beach accessories, Chilmark may face paying hefty fees to dispose of it. 

“The Friends of Sengekontacket for over 30 years have this ‘carry in, carry home’ policy … and they say it works,” said Janet Buhrman, a board of health member. 

Menemsha Beach’s trash situation will be discussed at a later date, but the need for porta-potties at the beaches was also mentioned.

The board of health said it will provide its recommendations for Squibnocket and Lucy Vincent beaches to the select board at a later date. 

As for the popular Menemsha sunsets, the boards discussed putting some restrictions in place to support law enforcement officers and beach guards in handling the many tourists this season. 

“We had a huge influx of boater reservations this year. Normally, we receive 200 in the first weekend, and we were 550 in the first day,” said Ryan Rossi, harbormaster of Menemsha.

For health and safety regulations, the boards decided that Chilmark will follow state guidelines. However, the Massachusetts government is currently amending those guidelines, so changes are expected in the near future. Chilmark will use state guidelines unless they are deemed unsatisfactory in protecting the community. 

Select board member James Malkin noted that local regulations supersede those imposed by the governor if they are more strict. “We can do that if it’s a health issue, but I also accept the issue of dealing with the public in this situation,” he said. 

The two boards were unanimous in some aspects of the summer plans. All recreational boating businesses will follow state guidelines. Parking will be restricted in Menemsha, with no parking allowed on Basin Road’s west side. The sunset shuttle will not be available this summer. 

Chilmark’s fish markets will be encouraged to do takeout only, but the decision will ultimately be left to the owners. 

The latter part of the Zoom meeting discussed the possibility of allowing events or programs. 

The Chilmark General Store’s owner, Joel Glickman, presented his plans to increase the capacity for customers. Glickman said the store’s past regulations would remain the same, while having an extra exit to create better flow for customers. This was approved by the board of health, and the Chilmark General Store will be allowed 12 customers at a time, with a pending decision on whether more will be allowed. 

Alexandra London-Thompson, executive director of the Chilmark Community Center, presented her summer program plans for tennis, indoor exercise, and a summer camp. The indoor class would require participants to wear a mask. The center’s proposed camp would consist of pods, with two counselors and 10 campers each. “The whole thing will be this beautiful, flowing thing where the kids feel like it’s all fun and collaborative, but really we’re keeping them away from each other,” said London-Thompson.

A response plan to a positive COVID test in a camper is not set in stone yet, as state guidelines are still being formulated. The board of health suggested putting the plan in writing. 

“All we really need from you is to inform the tracing team, the coordinator, whoever is coordinating, me or Betsy [VanLandingham], and make sure the parents of the close contacts understand that their kids are now sitting tight with minimal contact with anybody except them, depending on the age of the kid, until they speak to a contact tracer,” said Marina Lent, administrator for the board of health. 

The center’s summer programs were approved as long as the program maintains state guidelines, and a formal plan is in place to deal with someone getting sick. 

Suellen Lazarus, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, presented the proposal for a summer book festival in Chilmark from August 6 to 10. The author talks would be a main showcase of the event. She said the event would be outdoors, with participants masked and socially distanced. The events will be ticketed, and the capacity allowed would be 150 people, but the festival hopes that 200 to 250 people will be allowed for some authors. An officer will be present to enforce the rules.

The Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival was approved, under the condition that capacity remains at 150 people and state guidelines are followed.

The Rev. Ernest Beisle of the Chilmark Community Church said he plans to hold the Blessing of the Fleet in Menemsha on Memorial Day weekend. That event had already been approved prior to Wednesday’s meeting.


  1. As I read all of this I say “ what is wrong here” Sounds like “Control”, what happened to the island, the free spirit of the 60’s has turned itself inside out! Stand up for what you really know, we all know this is at the point of ridiculous!!!!!??
    RESTRICT Freedom? “Do or Die” quote from man in WH! Hello are you alive or stoned in a trance with the current admin!

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