Land Bank mulls campground proposal

Plan would ‘resurrect’ old Webb’s campground in Southern Woodlands.

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A campground proposal is being considered for a section of the Southern Woodlands Reservation. — Courtesy Martha's Vineyard Land

On Monday afternoon the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank commission voted to refer a campground proposal for the Southern Woodlands Reservation to the Oak Bluffs Land Bank advisory board for input. After deliberation, the commissioners waxed positive toward the concept of a seasonal campground set in a section of the Southern Woodlands Reservation off Barnes Road. 

Land Bank executive director James Langyel described the pitch as an “unsolicited proposal to resurrect” the old Webb’s campground. The proposal comes from Jacob Weaver of Boston, who stated in his proposal he wished to create “a low-impact campground with a variety of family-friendly accommodations such as safari-style tents, geodesic domes, and ‘pitch your own tent sites.’” Weaver indicated his wife’s family made a bid to buy Webb’s campgrounds years ago, but were outspent. Weaver’s proposal calls for portable showers and toilets. 

As The Times previously reported, Randall and Sarah Spurr, who were abutters, tried to buy Webb’s property, but the land instead went to golf course developers. Those developers were blocked from building a golf course by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Subsequently, the Land Bank acquired the property. 

Though Weaver, per a pre-existing Land Bank management plan, wanted to place the campground in the Southern Woodlands off County Road, the commissioner’s saw more merit in siting the campground off Barnes Road, where Webb’s campground was originally located. 

Lengyel told the commissioners the area in question is in “priority habitat,” so whether the state’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program would need to conduct a review was something to consider. Lengyel said the Barnes Road site definitely falls within the purview of the Natural Heritage program. 

He also said it was customary to send out a request for proposals when a project is presented to the commission. The commissioners considered that a possibility, but took no immediate action.

“I think this is a really exciting proposal,” Oak Bluffs Land Bank Commissioner Kristen Reimann said, “to reintroduce tent-style camping at the Southern Woodlands.”

Edgartown Land Bank Commissioner Steve Ewing said he is a “strong supporter” of the project or one like it.

In response to a question from The Times if campfires would be used at the proposed campgrounds, Lengyel said generally speaking, no Land Bank land permits fires. “The Land Bank does not permit fires on its property,” Langyel said. However, he added, an “exception” might be “carved out” for campgrounds. Lengyel also said it may be premature to consider campfires. “Let’s get the location first before we design it for somebody,” he said.

West Tisbury Commissioner Peter Wells said campfires were integral to the camping experience. 

“I think Oak Bluffs may be the last town on the Island that allows beach fires and campfires. All the other towns have said absolutely no, it’s forbidden,” Wells said. “I’ve been to campgrounds up in Maine, and we all had roaring fires in amongst the pines. We didn’t set the place on fire, so it could be done … It’s a big part of camping to have a campfire and to smell wood smoke.”

Weaver’s proposal calls for the allowance of “charcoal fires for cooking in approved grills, providing permission is granted by the Oak Bluffs fire chief.”

Lengyel later told The Times the Land Bank had explored establishing a campground previously, but nothing ever came to fruition. He made it clear, then as now, if something should come to pass, the Land Bank would not own or manage the campground, but have a lease agreement with someone. “There was never any contemplation that the Land Bank, as an institution, was going to run this,” he said.

Sarah Thulin, Aquinnah’s commissioner, abstained from the vote, without specifying why. The commissioners from all five other towns and the commonwealth’s commissioner voted in favor of the referral to the Oak Bluffs advisory board. That board is set to meet Wednesday at noon. 

26 COMMENTS

  1. I can remember clearly that Arlene Bodge and her partner would have Vineyard residents and their families camp all summer. It seemed like there were 40 – 50 people. These were a wonderful mix of singles, families and couples who had winter rentals and no where to go in the summer. They were a very happy group who enjoyed a very unique comraderie and a good safe and healthy summer lifestyle and a tent over their heads. I hope that the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Committee would endorse this idea should someone wish to make it happen again. We desperately need more innovative housing initiatives!

    • I stayed there a couple summers back in the early 80’s. It really was a fun time. Met some great people, some of whom I consider my closets friends to this day.
      The problem with this idea now is that the affordable winter rental market just isn’t there anymore. Winter rentals, if you can find them are $2500-3000 a month. Plus utilities. Also, there really is no offseason here anymore. Visitors and off island homeowners are here right up until Christmas. January and February are kinda slow, but people start trickling back in around St Patrick’s Day. They are using their homes pretty much year round.

  2. This is a great idea….its getting back to Vineyard living and being able to enjoy our island without breaking the bank!!
    Hope this idea makes it to a reality.
    Joan Dunayer
    Edgartown

  3. I have lived on the Vineyard year round since 1980, but my very first Vineyard visits were camping with my family at Webbs in the 60’s and 70’s. Precious memories of a simpler time on the island. Seems like an idea worth consideration.

  4. Please bring back camping at the Webb’s location. We camped there as a family when I was 8 and saw the lunar landing in the campground rec room…I worked at Webb’s for my campsite for two summers and rode my bike to work. That’s what these college kids need…a place to camp and ride their bikes… no cars allowed. Wouldn’t that be so great.

  5. This is a wonderful idea. Great for the person who doesn’t like crowds or can’t afford the high cost of renting. Nature at its best!

  6. From the LB website:
    ” And this money [2% of homes’ purchase price] must go far. Farmers, hikers, beachcombers, birders, hunters and many, many others are all constituents of the land bank and all deserve to have some land set aside for their special needs.”

    And campers, too…. whose special needs include fires, places to relieve themselves, and water sources. Would the lease agreement with “someone” mean the LB will collect rent? Well, of course, sillies. That’s what a lease is. An agreement to pay rent. And who is this “someone”? A restaurant guy, maybe? Maybe some food truck business? Portapotty people? The LB, created for the public, is a landlord, don’t you know. Why should the perpetual 2% on home sales, that translates into millions and millions every year for the LB, be enough? There is never “enough” when it comes to the LB. Camping, by the way, is not “housing” when it does not provide for basic human necessities of heat/fire, water, and bathroom facilities.

    From the LB website:
    “CAMPFIRES AND BONFIRES ARE NOT ALLOWED ANYWHERE ON LAND BANK PROPERTIES. Tent camping is available to scouting groups, non-profit organizations and schools for educational and group-camping purposes…Individuals wishing to camp on Martha’s Vineyard are encouraged to contact the island’s private campground facility.”

    It’s also nice the LB notices that there are other conservation orgs on the island:
    “The land bank’s private-sector counterparts, fortunately, help out. These trusts’ extraordinary work in creating wildlife sanctuaries across the Vineyard frees the land bank to pursue a more diverse mission, where some land bank properties are reserved for wildlife while others are used for agriculture, hunting and/or many other types of conservation use….Balance is key in land bank property management. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION leads the list of land bank goals with public use encouraged where and when possible. Trails avoid sensitive areas, signs advise of special precautions visitors need take, and attendants are hired when necessary to oversee use.”

    (All caps are mine.)

    Does the LB think that other island conservation orgs exist to help the LB do and be and acquire more? Apparently, yes.

    FYI, James Lengyel: camping is NOT “conservation use”. It’s not passive recreational use. There’s the issue of fire, water, and poo. Camping is disruptive to the ecosystem. It is the antithesis of what is outlined in the LB legal documents, section 5:

    http://www.mvlandbank.com/documents/law_001.pdf

    Public concerns, if anyone cares, and the blatant disingenuousness of the LB mission will be ignored. Let’s jam in more people, more potties, more environmental damage, more fire hazards during now-frequent droughts, more, more, more. People reminiscing about the good old days of camping? This is 2022. We need traffic lights, a reliable SSA, a plan for food insecurity getting worse, and housing for infrastructure employees to provide independence and security for the year round community, which, by the way, is anyone who lives here more than anywhere else. Stop whining about “off-islanders” living most of the year in the home they own. They are islanders, like it or not. Islanders without kids in school have always done what they could to escape winters here for as long as they could, often months. The pandemic brought more people “home”.

    Do we really need to figure out more ways to ruin, overpopulate, and divide the island even more as it implodes from greed and self-interests and pollution and a blindness to reality? The Land Bank is a cult with a cult following, so I get it. It’s how the Housing Bank was invented. Will everyone be pitching a tent? Oh, right, zoning. But the Land Bank will allow it because they can–and they rely on the fact that brainwashed people think the Land Bank can do no wrong as they make “exceptions” to overrule what they are allowed to do.

    • Excellent post.
      “ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION leads the list of land bank goals”

      This idea of a campgroundn on LB property is the camel’s nose under the tent.

      The LB should not be involved with housing in any way, shape, or form. Especially not with 1970s “solutions” to 2020s problems. The Island is being “surged” by so many groups and factors—it is more important than ever for Islanders to be thankful that the LB was put in place when it was.

      Its mission not changed and must not change: To preserve as much of the Island as possible for the benefit of all stakeholders. At the top of that list of stakeholders is nature and wild organisms an complex ecosystems. People in need of housing and tenting spots are not even on that list.

  7. Barnes Road is MUCH busier than it was 20-30 years ago. Without a legitimate bike path, this is a dangerous idea. Also, the trail system which was a walk/bike byway from Webb’s to the water tower, back in the day, is now interrupted by several neighborhoods making it no longer an off-road option. There are existing trails that connect the old camp site with County Road and the high school… much safer approaches.

    • That trail system still exists and connects via Alpine to the bike path at the end on Pennsylvania Ave. I’ve walked it and rode my bike on it many times. The trail system also connects through the Preserve to the bike path on County Rd. Back in the day I had several college age employees live in Webb’s and they loved it. We never should have let it go.

  8. As a direct abutter, I do not support this idea. When Webb’s was open in the past, we had people coming through our yard, knocking on our door to use the bathroom of all things, and burning large camp fires right behind our trees. The forest has grown over to a natural environment, and I picture the roads being cut in again, and wildlife being pushed back out of its natural habitat. Did I mention the noise that carries at night? That was no picnic. I strongly vote “no”. The Southern Woodlands have become a pristine, natural environment, and I thought preserving such was the Land Bank’s mission.

  9. Last time I was in a “campground” the place was filled with RVs and humongous trailers and campers.
    There was one little area for actual tents.
    People in RVs have a totally different lifestyle from those who actually sleep in a tent.
    They sit in front of the watching their TVs and playing loud music as if they were in their living room or on their deck at home. If there isn’t a power hookup they don’t know what to do with themselves.

    The idea of taking a regenerated, healed environmental resource and ruining it by turning it back into what it was regenerated from is bekloppt.

  10. Please Land Bank don’t do this to one of the 2 swaths of land in OB that’s unspoiled, wild and full of old trees which are thriving. Don’t let the greed of an off island developer ruin anymore of our island.

  11. So lets do something that is reasonable.
    A minimally invasive campground—
    tents only
    7 day maximum stay
    No electricity
    No water
    porta potties
    safe fire pits
    how hard is that ?

    • Don, it’s not hard at all for the LB to ignore its own goals and mission statement.
      Your list sounds nice, but read the “campground proposal” linked in the first paragraph above. In its entirety. There isn’t even a pretense of going by your list, which at best is naive. Then take a look at the photos of structures they call “tents”. Do you know what glamping is? You’ll forgive me, but this is how the LB gets away with half their deceit with their “exceptions” they have the power and money to pull off on an accepting public, many of whom look to the LB with cult like adoration. This glamp ground is NOT allowed.

      Exactly who is the West Tisbury resident who wants to do this to supposedly conserved/preserved LB property and why is their identity a secret?

      Read the proposal, peeps. Then read the land bank’s mission statement. There is nothing about any of this that is allowed. Why is the LB so greedy and drunk on their power to try to pull this off? Because the island lets them. But hey, it’s the land bank so I’m not surprised at the blind support at this latest fakakta plan.

      • Jackie–You are absolutely correct that the LB charter forbids camping.
        I agree that the way the proposal is written is unacceptable.

        There is a clear desire to have actual camping on the island.
        As for glamping.. If a campground does not allow vehicle access, and you have to carry everything in to your campsite, that might cut down on the luxuries.
        I personally think a campground in the state forest with “carry in carry out ” status would be a real benefit to the island. Minimal amenities, perhaps cold showers available. Away from any abutters.
        Fire pits with safety in mind… Deadwood could be collected by the forestry department and sold to campers. Or campers could have designated spots where they could collect wood for free. It would help a little to reduce the amount of fuel on the forest floor.
        Not quite as good as raking the forest floor, like Finland does ( according to you know who) but it could help.

  12. Yes Don Keller..and have all sites in the already cleared meadow so no trees need to be cut.

  13. Point of curiosity…does anyone know if Jacob Weaver in this proposal the same man who own the nationwide groups of private schools named Fusion Acadeamy?

    • Yes, Susan, he says he currently serves as founding head of school in the About Me section of the proposal. It’s confusing who this person is since the proposal has blacked out sections in the “FROM” areas, perhaps to conceal the personal email address.

      Also, the proposal says nothing I can see about walk-in or bike-in only, but it does allow for installation of facilities for drinking water, showers and toilets, and fires (grills).

      • It’s in Hingham where he is Head of School. I know nothing about Fusion, but it seems there are many campuses.

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