The Ancient Trees of Seven Gates Farm
Our first Winter Walk of the season, led by Tess Bramhall and Dr. David Foster at Seven Gates Farm, featured a visit to some of the oldest trees on the Island. At Seven Gates, a gift of a Conservation Restriction to The Trustees of Reservations forty years ago preserved 1,000 acres of open space, securing permanent protection of invaluable habitat and part of the Tisbury Great Pond watershed.
In recognition of our 50th anniversary, VCS’s 2014-2015 Winter Walks program took a decade-by-decade approach to highlighting the history of conservation on our Island, visiting five important and iconic spots conserved with VCS help.
The season kicked off with a visit to the Gay Head Cliffs on Saturday, Nov. 22, where VCS and the Town of Aquinnah won a National Natural Landmark designation in 1965. In January we visited Katama Farm (today the home of the Farm Institute), which was preserved in the 1970s as a town treasure. The 1980s brought protection at Morning Glory Farm, and in succeeding decades, Allen Sheep Farm and Mermaid Farm – locations that have come to define the Vineyard’s commitment to sustainability for the future.
The 1970s: Saving a Farm in Katama
For our third Winter Walk of the season we made a visit to Katama Farm, home of the FARM Institute. A small gathering of about 25 guests joined Jon Previant and Sundy Smith of the FARM Institute along with our own Brendan O'Neill for a tour of the new interpretive hiking trail that opened last year. Sundy and Jon shared their knowledge of current farm operations and Brendan presented the complicated land-use and conservation history of this unique piece of Vineyard farmland. See photos
The 1980s: Conservation at Morning Glory Farm
VCS's second Winter Walk of the 2014-15 season was a trek through the fields and farm operations of Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown. Owner and operator Jim Athearn led the walk through conservation restricted farmlands and shared his knowledge of the history of conservation at this vital centerpiece of Island agriculture.
About thirty years ago, VCS launched a major conservation project at what is today Morning Glory Farm. The goal was the preservation of working farmland and the scenic roadside vista at the approach to Edgartown. The specific strategy was to assemble a financing package to purchase a permanent agricultural restriction on 18.3 acres of fields fronting the Edgartown/West Tisbury Road.
This was ultimately accomplished through a partnership of many stakeholders, including: the landowners, who agreed to sell their development rights at a bargain price for conservation purposes; the state, who awarded grant funds for the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR); the town of Edgartown, who voted to supplement the APR grant; VCS, who helped raise more private funds from the community; and finally, then tenant-farmers Jim and Debbie Athearn, who subsequently purchased the land.
The result was a tremendous success, broader than the original goal of preserving a farm field and scenic vista. Today, Morning Glory Farm is a successful family-run business, and a leader in the local agriculture movement on Martha’s Vineyard, the success and diversity of which can be seen in this map. Ripple effects of the project include impacts on additional land conservation nearby, such as the Land Bank purchases at Ben Toms Preserve and Sweetened Water Preserve.
The 1960s: Landmark Designation at the Gay Head Cliffs
As a tribute to one of the founding acts of the Vineyard Conservation Society, in our 50th year we kicked off the Winter Walks series with a return to the Gay Head Cliffs. In 1965, VCS collaborated with the Town of Aquinnah to win a National Natural Landmark designation for the Cliffs. Since that time, VCS has helped conserve many other parcels of open space, family farms, and natural habitats, but the Gay Head Cliffs will always remain one of the most iconic and powerful reminders of what is special about this Island.
One of those special aspects of the Vineyard ― on full display at the Cliffs ― is our unique geological history. The walk was scheduled to coincide with an extra-low tide, in an effort to get a better look at the rapidly-eroding glacial deposits of the area. One of the interesting aspects of the Cliffs is that a wide diversity of geologic eras are visible in the exposed strata. Former VCS Executive Director and amateur geologist Bob Woodruff lead the walk, joined by Fred Hotchkiss, Director of the Marine & Paleobiological Research Center in Vineyard Haven. See photos
Kids and Crafts at West Chop II
On Sunday, March 9, 2014 about 30 kids (and kids at heart) joined us at Sense of Wonder Creations for our last Winter Walk of the season. Director Pam Benjamin helped turn the flotsam and jetsam of the West Chop beaches into found art and engaging experiences for all. Thanks to the VCS members, board, and staff, our partner organizations and volunteers, and the scores of attendees who helped make 2014's Living at Sea Level series of walks a huge success! See photos
The Lost Bass Creek
An intrepid group of more than 40 walkers participated in the VCS "Lost Bass Creek" Winter Walk, setting out from the post office parking lot near Five Corners for an exploration of the filled tidal lands of Vineyard Haven. See the full story and slideshow.
Bass Creek in the early 20th century (at right) and today (below)
A common trait of Living at Sea Level is for humans to find creative ways to expand our available habitat. One reality of living in a time of rising seas, however, is that these engineered human habitats may be some of the first to be given back to the sea.
The Woods Preserve
January 2014VCS has offered guided walks on the Woods Preserve since its protection in 1991, when the owners, Edwin Newhall Woods and Jeanne Woods donated a permanent Conservation Restriction (CR) to the Nature Conservancy (TNC). The land was bequeathed to TNC upon the Woods’ death, and the CR was conveyed to VCS last year.
A Chilly Day at Quansoo
Thirty intrepid folks, comprising VCS members, friends, staff, and board got together on a chilly day in early December for one of our more arduous walks. Led by naturalist Soo Whiting and VCS staffer Jeremy Houser, walkers followed a circuitous path around Black Point Pond (a fairly large salt pond between Chilmark Pond and Tisbury Great Pond), traversing the farm fields and the roads, trails, and beaches of the Quansoo area, before returning to the historic Whiting farmhouse.
The Gay Head Cliffs
Kids and Crafts at West Chop
Sunday, March 10th, VCS teamed up with Sense of Wonder Creations for a combination Winter Walk and Craft Day. Over 50 kids, and kids at heart, joined Sense of Wonder Director Pam Benjamin for a walk around the West Chop area while hunting for creative art supplies from nature. The beaches -- heavily eroded by recent storms -- also got spruced up a bit from the extra attention.
VCS hosted an interpretive walk at Eastville Point beach, which is located adjacent to the drawbridge, on the Oak Bluffs side. A small gathering of hardy folk braved the blustery conditions to take in the scenery and hear walk leaders Dave Nash and Brendan O'Neill describe the history and hoped-for future of this crucial bit of open space tucked between two bustling towns.
Eastville Point fits very well into this year’s theme of “Historic land usage crossroads” -- conservation properties where potential crises were averted with the help of VCS. Though it is now protected public open space, the process to prevent development of this waterfront site was long and arduous.
We began efforts to conserve the Eastville jetties beach in 1975, and two years later the Convery and Young families gifted to us their two-thirds interest in the promontory. VCS transferred this interest (consisting of 5.25 acres with 900 feet of beach) to the County of Dukes County. The County then applied for and secured a grant from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for the project, including funding to acquire an additional, abutting one-acre parcel owned by another member of the Convery family. This phase of the project was five years in the making.
VCS then returned to Oak Bluffs (having been rebuffed earlier) to partner on a grant request from the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs Self-Help Program to conserve the one-acre parcel. The town agreed to participate in the grant, with VCS agreeing to supply 20% of the funding with the state providing the rest. The outcome was successful, with Oak Bluffs left owning the small parcel, and VCS privately raising the required matching funds. The formal dedication took place a full ten years after the launch of the project; today the Eastville Beach Recreational Area consists of a total of 6 acres, with 1,700 feet of beach conserved, managed jointly by the County and the Town of Oak Bluffs.
Walk leaders Bob Woodruff, Jon Previant, and Brendan O'Neill shared with the small gathering the history of the property and insight into the present-day activities of the FARM Institute. Extra special thanks to Sidney Morris and Julie Olsen for sharing their extensive knowledge of farm operations and adding some excitement to the walk, including an oxen demonstration!
Frances Newhall Woods Preserve
Wakeman Center, Cranberry Acres, and Hoft Farm
BiodiversityWorks founders Luanne Johnson and Liz Baldwin, Land Steward Liz Loucks of The Nature Conservancy, and Carol Magee, Director of the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, guide an enthusiastic crowd of conservation-minded folks through the Wakeman Center environs.
Lloyd Raleigh rallies the troops and then pushes them through the windswept moors of the Moshup Trail conservation lands.