Land Bank Gains in West Tisbury

100 Acres Includes Pine Woods and Farming Fields

By ALEXIS TONTI

A purchase announced by the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank Friday will conserve roughly 100 acres of dense woods and active farmland in West Tisbury. The land, sold by Katharine Sterling, is a significant anchor in the land bank's cross-West Tisbury trail, located directly between the Wompesket Preserve and Old Holmes Hole Road.

In terms of acreage, this purchase sets no records for the land bank. But at a price of $6,941,650, the acquisition is the most expensive single land bank purchase to date.

The property includes 68.51 wooded acres, with a stand of unbroken pines running for seven-tenths of a mile along the north side of State Road, opposite Old County Road. The interior land includes 31.02 acres of farm fields, which will be conserved via an agricultural preservation restriction (APR).

"This is a good moment for this transaction," said Ben Reeve, who spoke for himself and for Ms. Sterling, with whom he lives. "It fits well into the conservation planning that is going on on the Vineyard. It will provide trails for nonmotorized use; keep a significant length of the roadside intact, and will keep farmland that has been used as farmland as farmland.

"We have annual public input sessions, and many times people have come to us, asking to preserve this property," said land bank executive director James Lengyel, who first contacted Ms. Sterling about the property in 1998.

Andrew Woodruff, who has farmed on the property for more than 15 years - raising basil, tomatoes, potatoes and other crops - characterized it as one of the largest parcels of undeveloped land in West Tisbury, with prime agricultural soil.

"I know the pressures on large landowners have increased with rising land values," said Mr. Woodruff. "I think we should all be thankful that the land bank exists as an alternative to development."

He added: "We're fortunate also to have landowners who are willing to commit land use to agriculture, because it is prohibitively expensive for a farmer to purchase land on the Island."

Ms. Sterling has retained half of her original holding, which she purchased in 1970, according to Mr. Reeve.

Among the property's previous owners were Francis A. Foster, who took residence there in 1927 and for a time had willed that the property be perpetuated as a wildlife and bird refuge. Henry and Mary Bell Hotchkiss later raised Hampshire sheep, peacocks, bantam chickens and waterfowl on the land, which they bought and named Nannauwiyack Farm.

Mr. Lengyel said the property serves as an important link in the land bank's series of cross-Island trails: "The middle part of Ms. Sterling's property is a broad, open field framed by woods," he said. "It's very scenic, and hikers on the trail will be thrilled when they come around the bend and see them."

The land bank paid for the property on an all-Island basis, which means that each of the agency's six town advisory boards voted to contribute proportionally to the acquisition.

Preliminary management goals call for a biological survey of the property, to be followed by a management plan in early 2005. Expected usage includes hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and other passive recreation.

Said Mr. Reeve: "We're hoping the partnership with the land bank is as successful as we think it can be, for people here on Martha's Vineyard, for the care and the stewardship of the land itself and for us and the other neighbors who live nearby."