On Dec. 15, the Aquinnah Land Bank advisory board presented the draft management plan for Squibnocket Pond Reservation during a public hearing. This 169-page plan was unanimously approved during a previous meeting in November.
Board member Sarah Thulin facilitated the hearing. In general, the public was supportive of the plans.
“I’m just really happy to know there are people who care enough to preserve that beautiful piece of property I grew up looking at,” Edwin Hydeman, a New York resident who grew up directly north of the property, said.
Thulin said the credit belonged to the Kennedy-Schlossberg family for being willing to sell the 323-acre property to the Land Bank, and a part of it to the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, for a total of $37 million.
However, there were some concerns that were raised. In particular, the public wanted answers regarding environmental protection and the impact of the trails.
“It’s an incredibly unique and fragile ecosystem. As much as we want people to use it and enjoy it, I really feel like [the management plan] really needs to protect the environment. These are limited places on Earth,” Dan Gordon, who recently purchased property on Nomans Watch Road, and is a close abutter to Squibnocket’s western entrance, said.
Gordon also expressed how vehicular activity, such as bicycles or the transporting of kayaks, could have an impact on the environment. Waterfowl hunting also seemed unnecessary to Gordon. Gordon said deer hunting served a purpose on the Island, but waterfowl have already lost habitat, and he does not see the need for it at Squibnocket. “I’m supportive of use [of the property], but I just would really encourage the protection of the environment,” Gordon said.
Luanne Johnson, director of BiodiversityWorks, said the board noted the unfragmented nature of this “pristine area.” She said the proposed trails would disrupt the ground-nesting bird species in the area.
“Trails really get people out into the landscape, and I appreciate that you want people to have views, and you want them to be able to see the property, and you talked about attraction. But in talking about how you sited trails, I really didn’t hear about protecting the biodiversity that’s on the property,” Johnson said, unsure where protecting the environment ranked for the Land Bank and Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation compared with trail construction. “When you put trails into areas and fragment them, it brings dogs into an area where they may not have been before. It sometimes — depending on the habitat — creates an avenue that wasn’t there for skunks, for raccoons, for cats. It offers opportunities for dog feces to be somewhere that might attract more skunks into the area where there are ground-nesting birds. To some species — I can think of whippoorwill and woodcock, and those types of species — that level of disturbance does cause an impact. Once you do that and once it happens, it’s a done deal. It’s hard to repair that. You can’t roll that boulder uphill very easily, and I think we all know that.”
Gregory Palermo, a member of the public, was also concerned about the construction of the trails. He was concerned about the plant life that would be cut down and affected by the trails.
“I read the plant list with great interest,” Palermo said. “If you look at the NHESP (Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program) county checklist, there are several species that they turned up that have not been documented on the Vineyard before, and I think the presence of those species highlights the fact that this is very important land to be conserved.”
Thulin reminded the public that the plan still needs to be reviewed by the state before it becomes official. The next government entity to review the plan is the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.
“There are steps that the state takes to look into questions such as rare species and any habitat that they want to address … if in their view we’re not properly addressing,” Thulin said, “they will let us know.”
Thulin said once the state signs off on the plan, it comes back to Aquinnah and is reviewed again by the relevant local boards, committees, and commissions.
Managing the area in as environmentally friendly a manner as possible was the goal of the Land Bank, according to Thulin.
After the public hearing was closed, the board unanimously approved the property management plan to be sent to Boston, with an amendment to allow dogs at Squibnocket on “an observational basis.” People will be educated about how dogs should be handled on the property. Depending on what is noticed, the Land Bank would adjust the rules as needed. The board is able to vote on the plans again if other amendments are needed.