Following the recent release of a draft management plan for Trustees of Reservations beaches that has received sharp criticism, the Trustees’ president and its top official on the Vineyard both met with The Times to discuss over-sand vehicle (OSV) and dog restrictions.
Standing at the over-sand trail entrance to Norton Point, John Judge, the president of the Trustees, and Darci Schofield, superintendent of the Trustees’ Island properties, said the Trustees itself and the proposed regulations are all about striking a balance between recreation and conservation.
With a newly restored sand dune behind him, Judge said, “We can succeed at the intersection of recreation and resiliency.”
One of the ways to achieve resiliency, he said, is by preventing degradation of dunes and other natural features that protect the shoreline through OSV “middle road” management practices.
“We’re keeping 75 percent of the OSV trails open, so 130 miles of OSV trails, which I think is a pretty good compromise.”
Judge said he’s not only concerned about loss of habitat but loss of beach, the two of which are interconnected. “You know we’ve lost 93 acres from 1994 to 2017,” he said of beaches.
OSV can rut the sand and erode dunes, Judge said. He pointed to a tilted fence stake nearby with a tire mark leading up to it.
Schofield said understandable vehicular errors like that can amount to “a death of a thousand cuts” without proper oversight.
“When it comes to dirt roads, sand roads, camp roads, obviously operator error affects habitat loss,” Judge said. “You know, people backing in, going where they’re not supposed to. But then just the constant use, the beating down of roads …” Judge went on to say these degradations can exacerbate rainstorms and other weather damage: “So the less adaptive and the less resilient roads are, the more they are going to be washed away.”
Again pointing to the tilted stake and tire mark, behind which was new beachgrass planted as part of the dune restoration, Schofield said preservation of flora is key to keeping the shoreline intact.
“Dune restoration near us,” Schofield said, “wouldn’t be sustained without vegetation. This dune grass is a critical component of resilience for a variety of reasons. So having these OSV trails, it’s really important, in addition to following the guidelines around that, to ensure they’re not intersecting or eroding this critical vegetation, which is a key to our long-term resilience of these beaches.”
For Norton Point in particular, the OSV cap is “about 120,” which is established in part when the vehicle queue stretches back to the gate at Katama Road. For bird safety, all OSV are escorted in, she said.
“Folks are driving 5 miles per hour. Rangers are on the ground literally walking the vehicles across the dune to make sure there’s no OSV interference with the chicks. It’s very staff-intensive. It’s just in Norton Point … We utilize this mechanism, through the habitat conservation plan, that was designed to really address these kinds of pinch points.”
Other than the rangers, Schofield said no pedestrians are allowed on the Noton Point OSV trail when OSV are allowed on.
As to dogs, Judge said most folks are responsible with their pets, but there are those who just don’t clean up after them. Judge said he understands people’s frustration with dog restrictions.
“As a dog owner, I understand where folks are coming from,” he said. “I love dogs, but it really does come down to 37 percent loss of birds in North America, and 93-acre loss here.”
Schofield punctuated the potential for failing to clean up after a dog by noting she saw dog excrement at the entrance to the beach.
“[W]e can really empathize,” she said. “Our dogs are part of our families. Families want dogs to be part of our beach experience.”
She went on to say, “I definitely empathize, and I feel that struggle because I can’t bring my dog to the beach. I live in Chilmark. Lucy Vincent does not let dogs on the beach right now.”
Schofield stressed the Trustees want public input on balancing use, preservation, and access.
“We understand we have not thought of everything,” she said. “We’ve put forth our very best effort grounded in science, data, expertise, and regulations for this draft management plan. But we know we didn’t think of everything, so what are your thoughts? How can we align all of these uses together? I encourage the public to present those ideas to us.”
“I think that’s the opportunity — to tap into the collective intelligence of the community,” Judge said.
The public’s opportunities to comment on the draft management plan are coming in August. An initial forum will be held at the Chappy Community Center on August 8 from 5 pm to 6:30 pm. A second forum will take place at the Edgartown library, August 10, from 10 am to 11:30 am. And a final forum will take place on August 16, via Zoom, from 5 pm to 6:30 pm.