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Next Winter Walk: Sunday, Feb. 12 at Featherstone

Join VCS on Sunday, February 12 at 1:00 for an exploration of one of the Island’s most ecologically important interior woodland habitats. The walk will launch from property owned by the non-profit Featherstone Center for the Arts, founded in 1980 to develop community through promotion of the arts. The arts center sits amidst what the Mass Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program has identified as Core Habitat, consisting of “the most viable habitat for rare plants, habitat for rare animals, and natural communities.” In general, the interior woodland habitat consists of oak and pitch pine forest, as well as grassland, and is host to a diversity of bird species (including the Scarlet Tanager) and rare invertebrate species, such as the Imperial Moth.

The walk will be guided by Richard Toole, with additional flora and fauna observations and anecdotes from Margaret Curtin and Wendy and Robert Culbert. As with our other walks, expect about two hours, and cider and cookies will be available following the trip. And as always, it’s free! Please park at Featherstone and look for the VCS flags or signs.

Featherstone owns 6.5 acres dedicated to the arts center itself, and the MV Land Bank owns another 18 acres, including the front pasture (leased for agriculture), and manages trails for the public. The creation of the Featherstone property was made possible through the cooperation of the previous owners of Featherstone Farm, Mary and Bill Stevens. The property abuts the 234-acre Southern Woodlands Reservation, also owned and managed by the Land Bank. A portion of that land was once the public Webb’s Campground. Last year, the Land Bank received permission to explore a plan to site 40 low-impact campsites there.

The Southern Woodlands is one of the last large, undeveloped parcels of land in Oak Bluffs. It was also the focus of a land use controversy involving proposed development of the land as a golf course, as well as a plan for dense housing development. From 2000 to 2004, VCS led a campaign in opposition. Our concerns involved habitat impacts, loss of public walking connectors, nitrogen loading impacts to the Lagoon Pond, wastewater generation, impacts on public drinking water supplies, and storm water management.

Prior to its conservation acquisition in 2004, VCS worked with the town to pass the Southern Woodlands District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) to preserve the several old ways. Regulations were passed to prohibit destruction of the “ancient ways,” and to create a 50-foot protective vegetated buffer along the old roadbeds, which include the Old Back Road to Oak Bluffs and the Road to Farm Neck. The DCPC regulations require, to the maximum extent feasible, maintenance of large contiguous woodlands and natural, indigenous vegetation. This helps to support the needs of wildlife for breeding, feeding, and normal movement in what Heritage has described as one of the “globally rare natural communities, and important habitat for many rare, unusual and threatened species.”

During our advocacy effort, we exercised our right to submit testimony at public hearings. In response, we found ourselves on the receiving end of the developers’ subpoenas for depositions of our staff, and demands for production of documents of all kinds. We defended against the demands and continued to participate in the land-use review process.

In 2004, the Land Bank stepped up and purchased 190 of the acres for nearly $19 million. The developer retained 90 acres and received permission to develop a subdivision on the eastern side of the property. There are more than 3 miles of trails on the land, including the public “ancient ways” connecting Island towns. The Land Bank intends to improve the property with more than a mile of additional walking trails.