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Martha’s Vineyard Island has witnessed unprecedented change in the most recent decades. Farming declined; centuries-old pastures and fields were left to knot into vines and shrubs. The "freedom to roam" was curtailed as fences were erected across trails, beaches were gated off and hunting was restricted.
Few of these problems could be solved by planning boards and conservation commissions only; the Vineyard needed a new type of land agency. In the midst of an upspiraling building boom, island voters created the land bank in 1986 and charged it with reversing their losses.
More than twenty-five years have elapsed and some 3000 acres have now been conserved. Although this sounds impressive, it is actually mighty small: just 5% of the land area on the island. The commission’s revenue – generated by a 2% public surcharge on most real estate transfers occurring in the six towns – is modest compared to need, ensuring that islanders can expect the land bank to protect only a fraction of their community.
And this money must go far. Farmers, hikers, beachcombers, birders, hunters and many, many others are all constituents of the land bank and all deserve to have some land set aside for their special needs.
The land bank’s private-sector counterparts, fortunately, help out. Private trusts on the island such as the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and the Nature Conservancy specialize in creating wildlife sanctuaries of their lands; their extraordinary work across the Vineyard frees the land bank to pursue a more diverse mission, where some land bank properties are reserved for wildlife while others are used for agriculture, hunting and/or many other types of conservation use.
Balance is key in land bank property management. Environmental protection leads the list of land bank goals with public use encouraged where and when possible. Trails avoid sensitive areas, signs advise of special precautions visitors need take, and attendants are hired when necessary to oversee use.
The land bank is a rare breed. Neither a sanctuary program nor a park system, it is a middle ground where the highest virtues of conservation can be realized: public enjoyment of nature, where limits and restraint secure the natural world’s future and prosperity.
Visiting the Land Bank Properties
Land bank properties are, except during the hunting season, open daily to the general public from sunrise to sundown (see “Hunting Policy and Forms”). Trails are marked throughout and boundary markers indicate where public land ends and private land begins.
The land bank posts map signs at many properties’ trailheads and is installing others where needed. Handheld maps of each property, showing their trail networks and natural features, are available on this website.
Guided walks conducted by the land bank’s scientific and management staff are scheduled regularly in the off-season. The land bank also sponsors a day-long cross-island hike on National Trails Day, which is the first Saturday in June. Watch the island newspapers for details.
Talk to Us
The land bank welcomes public input on all subjects but especially on land acquisition priorities. The first item of business at all land bank commission meetings (which take place most every Monday at 5:00 pm at 167 Main Street in Edgartown) is public input; letters are also accepted. In addition, a public input session is scheduled biennially in September.
Martha's Vineyard Land Bank Commission
Post Office Box 2057
Edgartown, Massachusetts 02539