Outdoor recreation is an integral part of Vineyard life. The ability to stroll or cycle or fish is important anywhere, but the Vineyard’s natural beauty and evocative landscapes and vistas bring a special restorative quality of respite from the labors and cares of civilization.
Access to and enjoyment of natural areas provides community benefits beyond those to the individual; access to nature inspires the culture of stewardship that is integral to the Island Plan. The towns, Land Bank and various conservation groups have already created more than 127 miles of trails. Expanding this into an Island-wide network of greenways will be key to improving access to all parts of the Vineyard.
There is an intimate relationship between recreational needs and the divergent needs and offerings of natural and developed areas. There is a need to provide access to open space for people who reside in the midst of developed areas, and particularly to do so without compelling them to get in their cars and drive to the open space. Open space, however, is extremely limited in the midst of civilization. Penetrating into civilized areas with greenways is a priority, and careful management of those areas will focus on keeping negative edge effects from penetrating the larger open space destinations. Those greenway corridors should not funnel invasive plants and animals into the larger open space areas.
Sometimes, public access is not compatible with habitat and groundwater protection, or with owners’ wishes, including privately owned land that is under a conservation restriction. Where there is access, there are sometimes conflicts among users, or conflicts with management of the resources. User fees could help limit overuse, but may unduly impact those with lesser means. When the Island Plan was prepared in 2009, there was public access to about 73% of conserved open space as well as to 32% of the 211-mile shoreline of oceans and great ponds. Unfortunately, in spite of the apparent bounty, access to much of the most desirable land and water areas is limited, particularly at the shoreline.
Shoreline: Only 38.8% of the outer coast is public (37.5% open to the general public and 1.2% to town residents only). Of the 47 miles of barrier beach (that is the wide, sandy beach that most think of for beach- going), 33 miles are private and 14 are public. Linear shoreline is a finite resource with correspondingly high cost of acquisition. The regulatory climate in Massachusetts tends to favor the shoreline owners’ and waterways abutters’ rights over those of the general public. While some coast and beach has been acquired for the public in recent years, there is a perceived reduction in the former free and easy access. With far more people comes correspondingly higher impact, so increasing access must be accompanied by well-planned management.