Christiantown Woods management plan public hearing set

Arrowhead Farm is also a part of the draft management plan. 

A map that is a part of the draft management plan for Christiantown Woods Preserve and Arrowhead Farm.

The West Tisbury advisory board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 20, at 5 pm to consider the draft management plan for Christiantown Woods Preserve and Arrowhead Farm. The 128-page draft plan is available on the Land Bank website. 

During a Monday afternoon joint meeting with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission, the board received a presentation from Land Bank ecologist Julie Russell about the draft management plan. Christiantown Woods management plan originally consisted of around 7.5 acres, but Russell said acquisitions expanded it to encompass an additional 7.3 acres to the south, and around 33 acres from Arrowhead Farm. The trails and the trailhead would remain where they are. Some activities include cleaning areas of invasive and excessive vegetation and developing a trail, which would abut Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation property. 

There are also farming parcels on Arrowhead Farm, and Russell shared some of its history. 

“It is some of the best farmland that was in the Christiantown township. Most of the farmland that was good for farming was in the southern portion of the Christiantown township.They were not granted the best farmland in all of West Tisbury when they were given their [square mile],” Russell said. “It’s no surprise that the southern portion that was good farmland did leave the Wampanoag titles pretty early.” 

The property is currently under a life estate deed, which allows only certain things until the property fully transfers to the Land Bank. Russell said there are plans to put in a sign kiosk, a perimeter trail, and other installments. Once the property is under complete ownership of the Land Bank, the hay fields may be leased out to farmers, and a limited amount of archery hunting can be allowed. 

The plan also contains conservation strategies, such as vegetation management and improving water flow. Russell said while the plan does not specify details about rare species on the property, there are rare orchid and moth species, and the vulnerable box turtles in Christiantown Woods. Additionally, bats frequently hunt in the area. 

Commission and board members took time to ask Russell questions about the draft plan. Board member Leah Smith asked whether the trails would be accessible to horses, “given that it’s been a horse farm for a long time,” and Russell said the plan has no restrictions against them, including on the boardwalks. Smith also suggested installing a “marker at the beginning of the trail explaining its history to the extent you have it” at Christiantown Woods. Another point Smith made was that the proposed 40-foot easement is very close to a residential house. Russell said while she has not directly talked to these individuals yet, they would be notified about the public hearing. Russell added that the area is limited to walkers, and the owner is “not unaware” about what is happening, because of the Land Bank’s bat research activities in the area. Russell later said the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is also an abutter to the property, so they will be notified about the public hearing. 

“I think given how very close it is, it would be polite and politic to reach out to them a little bit more directly than to just send them a public notice,” Smith said. 

Chilmark commissioner and commission chair Pamela Goff said if horses would be allowed on the trail, it may be beneficial to have it provide “universal access.” Russell said how much universal access is allowed will depend on the commission and board’s wishes and the budget. However, a portion of it can accommodate this as a start. 

Board member Andrew Woodruff asked about the leasing of the hay fields, particularly with the life estate deed timing and language. Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said at the end of the life estate, a request for proposals will be issued. The winning farmer leasing the field can in turn sublease those lands. Woodruff also advocated for “having some natural habitat left aside in farm estates,” similar to what Island Grown Initiative is doing. 

After further discussion, the commission and board both unanimously approved the plan as ready for a public hearing. 

Meanwhile, the commission unanimously voted to have a custom to charge interest equal to the prime rate “that was in effect” when a property was purchased, and capping it at 7 percent, when “someone prematurely extinguishes an M exemption,” which is designed to help first-time homebuyers purchase a house. However, it was not codified as policy to allow the commission the flexibility to lower the charge if deemed appropriate. This topic was discussed during a previous meeting but the commission waited for more information from Land Bank staff about possible alternatives for an M exemption penalty charge.