In West Tisbury, ‘A Path Beside the Roadways'

By CHRIS BURRELL

A sidewalk may seem like the most hum-drum of amenities, but in West Tisbury they refer to their walkways with great deference, calling them "paths beside the roadways."

Until last year, this up-Island town with nearly 15 miles of paved streets enjoyed only the barest scrap of sidewalk, about 200 feet from Alley's General Store up around the corner of Music street to the side entrance of the First Congregational Church.

It was something of a problem: Anyone stepping out the front door for a stroll invariably ended up in the street.

"The Island has accumulated more people and walking along the side of the roads with no sidewalk is getting to be very unpleasant," said West Tisbury resident Ruth Kirchmeier. "I walk all over the place, quite often in ditches and places where you have to paste yourself up against an embankment because there's no sidewalk."

A few years ago, William (Billy) Haynes decided it was time to bring West Tisbury into a new age where walkers could tread without fear of traffic. He started up a paths committee, and they started walking the roads of West Tisbury, scouting the best, and most needed, places for a sidewalk.

"We've walked every road in town or at least a part of it," said Mr. Haynes. "All of us do kind of like to walk a little bit."

Ms. Kirchmeier joined the committee and confirmed this is a board with a definite slant. "We're all walkers," she said flatly.

As volunteering goes, she added, this task really didn't seem like work. "We've had a good time walking every road in West Tisbury," she said.

Eventually, they settled on the North Tisbury business district along State Road as the most logical starting point for the town's newest sidewalk. Their goal was to design a path from the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School all the way to Island Farms Road.

Across the street, an additional pathway would link the shopping areas between Conroy's Apothecary and Biga Bakery and the post office.

Sounds simple enough, but the 3,000 feet of sidewalk they envisioned and then handed over to county engineer Steve Berlucchi to design are no ordinary strip of pedestrian pavement. First off, it's macadam, and it curves its way around trees and over small humps in the landscape.

Mr. Haynes recalled discussions from more than a decade ago about bike paths. Residents resisted the idea for aesthetic reasons. "People didn't want to see a scar beside the road," he said.

So the approach was different from the start. "Taking that information, we came at this very minimally and wanted to make it scenic and nice."

The result is truly a path, one that is not all that noticeable from the road.

And the path is about to celebrate its first anniversary. "We finished it last Memorial Day," said Mr. Haynes, a little pride sneaking into his voice.

By most accounts, the path is a success, particularly for some of the 103 people who live in the 60 houses in the Island Farms subdivision.

Just ask Mary McDonough, who lives on Oak Knoll Road with her husband and three children. "We can walk to the grocery store and to Conroy's," she said. "We used to walk to our dentist, until we changed dentists."

Ms. McDonough said she can make it over to Up-Island Cronig's by foot as fast as she can drive there. She expects her children, who are all 10 and under, will soon graduate to using the new path to walk to the charter school.

The school is one of the main beneficiaries of the sidewalk. "It was a strategic move," said Paul Karasik, development director of the school. "They reached out to us and asked if we would join the discussion, knowing we needed a safe pathway for our students."

For the high school students, an open campus policy means they are free to walk over to Cronig's and Biga for snacks and lunch. Other students can now use the pathways when they go to the Wellness Center for dance classes or yoga.

Christina Napolitan, the school's lunch chef and the parent of a student, said the advent of sidewalks in the neighborhood has made a huge difference. "Walking to the grocery store, you were taking your life in your hands," she said. "It was very dangerous."

Ms. Napolitan, who lives in Island Farms, said her daughter can now walk to school without worrying about the car traffic or the dirt and mud along the roadside.

"Tons of people are using the sidewalk," she said. "It encourages people to park in one spot and walk to the post office or the bank."

By sometime next fall, residents could be taking advantage of even more sidewalks. Voters approved a measure to extend the network from Island Farms all the way to Humphreys Bakery near the intersection with North Road.

Mr. Haynes said his committee will keep walking and coming up with more prospects for paths.

"Lambert's Cove, there really should be a path there, between Seth's and Lambert's Cove Beach," he said. "But the layout is terrible - stone walls, massive trees, banks, gullies. It's an engineering nightmare.

"But we'll get a couple under our belt and keep trying to do this until the town says no," he added.

One more proof of the success of sidewalks in West Tisbury: a little envy from neighbors to the west. "A selectman from Chilmark called me," said Mr. Haynes, "and asked, ‘How'd you do that?' "