Kennedy calls Trustees’ plan ‘rubbish’

Former superintendent pulls no punches in rejecting draft management plan.

Former Trustees superintendent Chris Kennedy deeply criticized a recent draft management plan for Vineyard beaches. — MV Times

Former Trustees of the Reservations regional superintendent Chris Kennedy, a longtime resident of Chappaquiddick who now lives on the Cape, came out swinging against a draft management plan for Trustees beaches that included new over-sand vehicle (OSV) and dog restrictions for Vineyard beaches. In an email to Trustees president John Judge about the plan, Kennedy railed against community exclusion, misleading use of reference materials, and mortal dangers kids would face. 

Kennedy wrote that he was “saddened” to announce the Trustees draft beach plan marked the end of a “lifetime” of Kennedy being a “cheerleader” for “one of the premier land conservation organizations in the world.” 

“I can honestly say that I have never read a document so blatantly anti-community, anti-history, and without a care in the world for the resource balance it claims to seek,” Kennedy wrote. “In short, this document should NEVER have been released in its present form. It is filled with some great wisdom and scientifically supported data regarding the threat of sea level rise on our barrier beaches. Much of the rest of the plan is rubbish. It is clearly written with an ecological voice which is tone-deaf to the existence of its surroundings on Martha’s Vineyard. At Norton Point, Leland Beach, and Cape Poge, we have always found a balance between resource protection and public access. We emphasized public access for pedestrians and over-sand vehicles (OSVs) with provisions for boats, windsurfers, kiteboarders, and kayakers. This plan seems to treat human visitors in OSVs as the enemy.”

Kennedy argued that OSV use is not beach-detrimental “if some simple, commonsense rules are followed.” He noted that the draft plan “purports” to follow older guidelines for barrier beaches and piping plover protection, but doesn’t actually follow them. 

In a statement to The Times, Darci Schofield, the Island’s director for the Trustees, pushed back, and pointed out that the management plan is a draft.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank members of the public for providing their input. We’ve had emails, phone calls, and more than 250 people have completed our survey to collect feedback, which will be thoroughly reviewed. This beach management plan is a draft focused on providing OSV access, improved beach resiliency and shorebird protection, and responding to increasing flooding and erosion from sea-level rise and storm surge,” Schofield said. “The plan is informed by best management practices, research, and data from a variety of sources, as well as local, state, and federal laws. This plan builds on the Islands-focused Trustees’ State of the Coast Report released last year, which found from 1994 to 2018, Norton Point Beach (the most impacted beach on Martha’s Vineyard) lost 93 acres. That’s why, as our understanding of the escalation of erosion and sea level rise increases, it has necessitated a change in some OSV road sections.”

According to Schofield, despite the challenges of climate change, the Trustees are committed to keeping 75 percent of existing trails open under the draft plan. “We know how unique and valuable OSV access is to people seeking to enjoy the outer extents of these beaches, and we seek balance that ensures a middle ground that protects these fragile resources from the impacts of climate change, and maintains public access today and for future generations.”

Schofield’s prepared remarks did not address other complaints made by Kennedy. For example, Kennedy wrote, the plan “deviates from their provisions by substituting personal opinion and by failing to provide note of key provisions which mitigate the strict interpretation the ecology staff uses in this draft.”

Kennedy lamented that beach managers apparently weren’t given a say in the creation of the plan. 

“Further, I find it incredible that our beach partners were not involved in the writing of this controversial plan,” he wrote. “The Trustees sent copies of this plan to the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (the owner of Leland Beach), Dukes County (the owner of Norton Point), and the town of Edgartown (the owner of the Jetties) two weeks before releasing it to the public! President Judge, if I were them, I would be insulted that they were ignored in the drafting of this controversial and divisive plan.”

Dan McKiernan, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries director, and Christine Todd, chair of the Dukes County Commissioners, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. 

Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty told The Times on Wednesday he was aware feedback sessions were slated for August. He also said the draft plan will come before the select board in mid-August, and town counsel is reviewing the plan. 

In his email, Kennedy noted that he warned ecology staff “NOT to pursue their desire to ban dogs from Cape Poge, Leland, Wasque, and Norton Point because they failed to gather data on their assertions that dogs were actively harassing plovers, terns, and other beach-nesting birds.”

He went on to write, “To date they still have not presented data on Chappy or Norton Point dog incidents. I should know. I managed those beaches, and spoke daily with the shorebird staff and beach rangers. No question that unrestrained dogs running within proximity of nests is a violation of state law and should be documented. I am aware of a handful (less than six) incidents of dogs off-leash within a shorebird nest zone (these plovers were also protected by wire mesh exclosures) over 32 years of beach management. No question our rangers were daily reminding visitors to put their dogs on leash, but in most cases the dogs were standing/lying next to their owners/families. Are these dogs a threat to nesting shorebirds? Certainly not. And dog feces on shellfish flats? Huh? We have a small area on Katama Bay which is exposed at low tide. President Judge, believe me when I tell you that I have never seen our coastal ecologists, nor their staff, diligently searching this small shellfish area for dog feces. This plan also points out that there are other beaches which ban dogs on the Vineyard. This is a red herring. Almost all of the Island beaches which ban dogs are beaches where you park in a lot or alongside a road, thus dogs in those concentrated areas can be a nuisance. Here, we are talking about a seven-plus-mile stretch of remote ocean beach. This is a silly dog policy which needs to be reconsidered.” 

As an author of an older beach management plan, Kennedy wrote that there was never a call for narrow OSV trails. 

“We never advocated for OSV trails which were narrow and placed passing vehicles in close proximity to parked vehicles,” he wrote. “This plan endangers our visiting public on wide sections of the beach by mandating OSV trails which are exceedingly narrow and far from the Toe of the Dune. The resulting OSV travel corridor is too restrictive, and forces vehicles who wish to park with little to no room for passing vehicles. Under this scenario, the passing vehicles are given little to no reaction time to stop their vehicles. President Judge, I have years of experience driving on this beach, and not a summer day went by that I did not see a young child run into the travel lane chasing a toy, or a teenager leaping into the trail to catch a Frisbee. In my opinion, this plan, if it is implemented, may well lead to the death or injury of children who play at the beach.” 

Kennedy described “some of the most discouraging parts of this plan” as “its ignorance of historical use of trails for recreation, shellfishing, fin fishing, and quiet rejuvenation in nature.” 

Kennedy evoked Charles Eliot, the late 19th century landscape architect whose preservation ideas fertilized the legislative birth of the Trustees of Reservations.

“The world envisioned in this draft beach management plan is not the kind of place which Charles Eliot ever envisioned,” he wrote. “Even with sea level rise, we can find the balance between public use and enjoyment and protectin​g the places that we love. That spirit is missing in this plan.”

Kennedy insisted the plan be withdrawn and redrafted with community input. “There is no ‘fixing’ this draft plan. It needs a complete rewrite with a balanced point of view, which provides more than lip service to our mission, and truly embraces our mission of public use and enjoyment as well as protection of the properties which we all love and seek to protect.” 


  1. The Trustees, if you can call them that are nothing more than dictators wielding their power to serve the elites on Chappy. I was fishing on Chappy and saw numerous cars drop the chain to drive on the closed trails. When I asked about this I was told that residents can have as many guests, domestic help, family, contractors, friends as they want and are free to use the trails to get to their homes. And there is nothing they can do about it. When I asked about the “endangered” piping plover and how this could impact the nesting birds I was met with a laugh and told its nice to be rich. I was told there are no nesting plovers actually on the trails. So this begs the question is how do residents and their numerous guests get to magically use the trails without endangering the piping plover? Clearly this looks like rules for thee and not for me. This is a joke that we can’t use the same trails as the residents use to fish or use the beaches.

  2. Thank you Chris for bringing real world experience and dialogue to the table. So many of the bureaucrats today making decisions that affect us all have little to no real world experience. let’s go after the land bank next which offers very little parking for their property and hopefully will allow a big parking area for the newly acquired Aquinnah property.

  3. Chris Kennedy is a fantastic mind and a loyal steward who knows these shores like the back of his hand. Grateful that he is still watching the winds with such diligence.

  4. a question: how much money does the Trustees harvest from the Vineyard each year from its properties vs. how much do they spend each year on MV staff, upkeep, etc.

  5. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Came across this passage where the characters were about to go fishing in a Philip Craig Vineyard mystery from 2020:

    “‘Times have changed,’ observed Corrie as we inched ahead, waiting of the little On Time ferry to cart cars three at a time across the channel to Chappaquiddick. ‘Used to be we drove along South Beach to get to Chappy.’
    ‘A sore point,’ said Zee. ‘Don’t get J.W. too wound up on that issue.’
    Too late. I was quick to be annoyed. ‘Dad-blasted environmentalists keep the beach closed all summer these days, No ORV’s allowed, the theory being that the beach is being ruined and the plovers and terns are going to be killed by people driving by. Bunch of hogwash! The ocean wears the beach away, like always, natural predators kill the birds, like always, and now everybody has to go to Chappy by this ferry, so in the middle of the summer the waiting lines reach halfway back through town and we have to hire extra cops just to tend traffic!’
    ‘He gets testy about this subject,’ explained Zee in her best wifely voice.
    ‘Damned right! I said.
    ‘You can tell he feels very virtuous,’ said Zee. ‘He thinks most environmentalists are idiots.’
    ‘Not most,’ I said, ‘some. The sanctimonious ones especially.’
    ‘The ones who get between him and what he likes to do,’ said Zee, smiling back at Corrie. ‘He’s not very good at having other people tell him how to behave.'”

    • A timely quite from the talented and admired author Philip Craig but his last book was published in 2007 so these problems have been building for years and with increasing numbers of people and decreasing acreage on Norton point and Chappy, welcome to 2022.

  6. I have the tremendous privilege to work for Chris Kennedy and the Trustees and it’s always been the mission of Chris to protect the endangered shorebirds and safely balancing access for the Trustees members and visitors alike. He has always held that oath and so do I. I don’t support the proposed beach plan at all

  7. One thing to keep in mind here is that there is always a balance. Nature has managed to keep that balance for millions of years. Yes. some things win, some things lose as the earth changes, as environments change ( climate included).
    But it is my opinion the first world problems of wealthy land owners who have inhabited this planet for a few decades do not supersede the right of other creatures to exist. They after all have “earned” the right to exist over millions of years.
    Back in the 90’s when they first started to restrict traffic on Chappy. a group formed with the euphemistic name of something like “responsible use for Chappy beaches ”
    They wanted any vehicle to be able to drive anywhere at any time on the beach.

    Chris is worried that a child might jump out in front of a speeding OSV and be injured or killed. Really ? I appreciate his service,,,, but–
    statistically, I think it would be safer to close the entire stretch of beach on any day a possible thunderstorm was forecast.

    • Spot on Mr Keller. We have a finite amount of natural resources that should be cherished and taken care of WHILE enjoying them responsibly. What good is baking the best cake if you can’t eat it? Hold those accountable for not respecting the public lands but let people enjoy them.

    • I certainly respect Chris Kennedy’s experience.

      But, I must say that his comment about a child jumping out in front of a car sounded kind of laughable as an argument. Fearmongering anyone?
      And ditto, his making light of unleashed doggies on the beach. Small children and dogs should both be under the control of their “parents.” Actually, IMO no dogs should be allowed on any Vineyard beaches. There is a lot more wildlife on a beach than just nesting birds. For starters, the animals the birds eat.

      Yesterday I saw woman with an unleashed dog on her towel at Eastville, right next to the area with very prominent signage that it is a bird-nesting area. Plus the prohibition of dogs on the beach between 9 and 5 is prominently displayed on a sign at the beach entrance. Obviously, a dog can jump up and start chasing something and digging up the sand at the drop of a hat.

      Earth to Homo selfish: wildlife has a greater claim on these beaches than you or your pets.

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