Land Bank staff to analyze campground proposal

Commissioners disagreed on whether having a campground in the Southern Woodlands Reservation is a good idea. 

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Commissioners have reservations about a campground proposed for the western area of Southern Woodlands Reservation off of Barnes Road. — Courtesy MV Land Bank

The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission unanimously voted to have its staff look further into the potential impact of a seasonal campground proposal for Southern Woodlands Reservation off Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs. The initial proposal by Jacob Weaver of Boston was discussed during a previous meeting on Monday, June 6, and the commission unanimously voted to refer the issue to the Oak Bluffs Land Bank advisory board for input. 

Land Bank executive director James Langyel said the board is in favor of the proposed seasonal campground, which would operate in the former Webb’s campground on the “westerly end of the reservation.” Langyel also said the board “urges the commission to do due diligence in studying the campground proposal, consulting as needed with the Commonwealth’s Natural Heritage Office and issuing as needed requests for proposals (RFPs).”

Aquinnah commissioner Sarah Thulin expressed concern over the implementation of the campground. 

“I read the article in The MV Times … and there was a large number of people who responded. The people who responded enthusiastically and very warmly toward this idea were coming from a very honorable place. They’re coming from a nostalgic place,” Thulin said, listing comments by people who camped with their families at Webb’s campgrounds in the past. Thulin understood the nostalgia of the commenters, but underscored how the Island has changed since the 1960s, and the “great pressure” it feels from development. 

If the commission chooses to release an RFP for the proposed campground, Thulin said, another aspect that needs to be considered is the abutters. 

“One of my big concerns is that there are neighborhoods that have grown up around this area,” Thulin said, mentioning a commenter who lives in one of these neighborhoods who was against the idea. “We have to be sensitive to the fact the Vineyard is a very changed place.”

Edgartown commissioner Steve Ewing said that while he is “pro-camping” and likes the proposal, he understands Thulin’s concerns. He suggested that if an RFP is pursued, picking another Land Bank–owned location for a campground was a possibility. “I like his concept, starting small, relatively small investment, and see how it goes,” Ewing said. 

Lengyel said the due diligence would have to be taken care of by Land Bank ecologist Julie Russell and land superintendent Harrison Kisiel, alongside relevant officials like Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz, in autumn. 

“You can’t think of a busier time for those two people than the summer,” Lengyel said. “As for Mr. Weaver, who came forward with this nice proposal, that was just his idea. I don’t think the institution is beholden to him to try to give him a timely answer.”

Commission chair Pamela Goff said after giving the proposal some thought since the last meeting, she is against the idea. She also likes camping, but the Southern Woodlands Reservation is not the place for it, especially because of the amount of nitrogen that may be exposed to Upper Lagoon Pond from human activities. 

“I started thinking this is not the place to have intense residential use. When I saw the 40 number, too, I panicked because that’s a lot of sewerage and very intense use of land that we bought to be natural and kept in its natural space. I’m not sure we want to open up our sanctuaries for more intense human use,” Goff said. “I have serious reservations now about going forward with this project.” 

Tisbury commissioner Nancy Weaver asked commissioner Kristen Reimann her opinion as the Oak Bluffs representative. Reimann was “also a bit concerned” after seeing the comments on The Times’ story, particularly those suggesting the campgrounds could be used for worker housing. However, she thinks the area can still be used for camping. 

“I don’t believe this should be any kind of a solution for housing. This should be purely recreational,” Reimann said, adding she thinks there should be a limitation to how long someone can stay.

Thulin emphasized that the Land Bank is an “environmental conservation land organization” and should be following its mission. 

“I am really afraid, personally, the Land Bank is losing its way,” Thulin said. “If we’re even talking about the possibility of spreading out camping on any of our properties — that is not our mission. It just pains me to think that element is coming in here when we’ve got a mission, we’ve got our bylaws, our state statute. Let’s follow what the mission of the Land Bank is all about, and I’ll make a motion to refer this to staff for a lot deeper investigation into the idea of using — within our management plan for Southern Woodlands — into using it again as a campground.”

Thulin recommended getting a report by the end of the year from Kisiel about the proposal. 

13 COMMENTS

    • No one desperately needs to go camping, a non passive recreational activity. If you’re thinking of this as housing, the land bank is a conservation organization

      • Islanders who live here and get kicked out of their housing for a few weeks each summer in fact do desperately need to go camping.

        • Not on Land Bank property, a public conservation organization, where it is not allowed. We are speaking about this proposal to the land bank, not about housing. Again, camping that is actually housing is against the LB’s own mission and against why a land bank was voted for and created in the first place. Squatting isn’t allowed in empty island homes either, although you may think it should be. That would be trespassing. I understand the wish to talk about housing needs, but the land bank cannot service the people you are talking about. The island population supports what the land bank’s mission is legally supposed to be, not a bait and switch move.

          Camping is not housing. Showers, fires, toilets, vehicles– a big no-no. This is supposed to be the Land Bank with conserved property open to the public.

          Read Katherine Scott’s excellent comment below.

  1. A different property which doesn’t sit directly over our sole source aquifer and isn’t with the watershed for the lagoon should be used. Don’t endanger our water.

  2. Martha’s Vineyard has become so elitist that it’s very difficult for anyone not of significant means to come and stay here. Camping is a great alternative and a way of equalizing the opportunity for all people who might not have deep pockets, to be able to have a taste of what makes a Vineyard special. I think it’s a tragedy that the Vineyard has lost all the other campgrounds. For years, there was lots of underdeveloped property that served as campsites in addition to the other campground which are now gone. It seems only the farms who have summer workers willing to live in tents are able to push that envelope for seasonal housing. Having been to many campgrounds and national parks, there are lots of ways of mitigating nitrogen including composting toilets. Whether it’s for vacationers, scouts, or as a housing alternative for people unable to find a rental in Martha’s Vineyard and save any money, I think camping is a great way for people to experience the Vineyard.

    • And here is a link for the island campground, one not run by owned land bank which is a conservation organization prohibited from having fires on their properties.
      https://campmv.com
      I don’t know anything about this linked camping business, already in existence. Perhaps someone can tell me why it is not good enough to be mentioned in these discussions? Jim, you make it sound like there is no place for visitors to camp here. Is something wrong with this campground that you ignore it? Is the island not crowded enough without building and inviting more, better, bigger? The whole world can’t experience the island, but real estate people seem to forget that, and the fact that camping is NOT housing.

      • Sorry for the garbled first sentence above.

        Also, thank you to Pamela Goff and Sarah Thulin

    • Johanna — if this project does not include space for 40 ft long rv’s there would be no need to clear cut anything.
      But I think we all know that probability of that happening..

  3. We do still have the Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground, off the Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road, right? Some of your readers seem unaware of it. They are a very lovely and very real campground which has been around since 1972. I have dear friends who have always stayed there over the years and it’s enabled them to spend vacations on MVI with their growing family while on a tight budget. There are people who stay there for a few days or weeks, and some who live there all summer. The MVFC has expanded over the years, but you would never know it was there. Unless, like us, you happen to live fairly close by (as the crow flies) and the wind is coming from the right direction. Then on a cool summer evening you might sometimes get the nostalgic smell of campfires from that direction. Never any noise, never any other less desirable smells!
    Please don’t rush into reestablishing a campground on what is now Land Bank property. It’s the wrong place at the wrong time.

    • Gayle, thank you for that important information! A lot of people don’t seem aware of the established campground already here, including Jim Feiner.

  4. Re “Commissioners disagreed on whether having a campground in the Southern Woodlands Reservation is a good idea. ”

    I’m relieved to hear that at least some commissioners think this is a bad idea.

    It is a *terrible* idea.

    Thank heaven a few commissioners remember the mission of the Land Bank that I believe it is their job to further. Campgrounds are not part of the LB mission. And LB commissioners are not a new level of zoning board. A campground is not “passive recreation.” Neither are wood fires, or fires for grilling, or for anything else. There are many places in New England where one can experience the old-fashioned camping ideal of sleeping in a sleeping bag and singing songs around a fire. The AMC maintains a chain of hundreds of camping facilities and huts. However, nowadays most “campers” that I have seen actually live quite normally in “campers”—RVs—with hookups, TVs, etc.

    I can imagine the extreme pressure that James Lengyel comes under to dilute the LB’s mission.

    I urge commisisioners to hold the line against constant chops-licking regarding the Land Bank’s holdings and its income stream.

    The LB’s income stream, obviously, enables the purchase of lands for all to enjoy. Perhaps not so obviously, the Land Bank is an extremely effective method of income distribution, since the whole public is able to enjoy these lands. Hiving off a portion of the Southern Woodlands for a campground actually gives a small group priority use of lands purchased with this public money intended to ensure equal access for all—plus protection for wildlife.

    INTENTIONALLY FRAGMENTING HABITAT is directly contrary to the mission and past practice of the Land Bank and other Island conservation groups, which have collectively strived to plan their purchases and acquisitions so as to create larger protected tracts.

    As mentioned by many others, there is already a very nice campground on MV.
    I just heard high praises of it from a friend currently camping there.
    Employers can erect tents on their properties.
    And AFAIK anyone can get a tent permit for their guests.

    No alienation of the intended purpose of Land Bank lands should be even dreamed of.

    Frankly, this looks to me like an end run around normal processes that would be needed on the town level, with town planning boards, for establishing a campground.

    It is fun to play around with the someone else’s assets! Those who wish to create and manage another campground on MV should do their own fund-raising to purchase a property for this purpose and go through all of the normal permitting, etc. that would be needed to get it running.

    Also, town planning boards should insist on knowing exactly who the true owners and managers of any such facility are before they take up any such application. Not give a general approval and then some unknown management company pops up to manage the thing. No “compradors”!

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