The Mill Brook is one of the Vineyard’s great natural treasures, with its clear, unpolluted waters that run from the glacial boulder-strewn terminal moraine of the North Shore to the sandy outwash plain that rims the Tisbury Great Pond on the south shore.

Frank, Peter, Heidi and Gudrun Dunkl knew this through their research before they moved to the Island in the 1970s. The pure quality of the water was the central reason they bought their twenty-three-acre property off North Road in Chilmark that sits on the headland of the Mill Brook.

For the past four decades, the Dunkls have been a living example of environmentally responsible land stewardship. They put a conservation restriction on most of their property long before the Island land trust movement became a household word. For many years they did not even have a road into their property, preferring to park on North Road and walk down a hand-hewn path through the woods to reach the modest home they built themselves. In more recent years the Dunkls have tapped the freshwater resource of the Mill Brook for their Chilmark Spring Water Company, a mom and pop business selling locally bottled spring water.

The water company has been a community asset, much like the Dunkls themselves who are musicians, carpenters, craftsmen, farmers, beekeepers and of course ardent conservationists. But while it may have earned them a modest living, the company has not been a runaway business success and will be closed in the fall. And the Dunkls are growing older; their mother Gudrun died some years ago, and the time has come for them to plan for their senior years.

Enter the Island Grown Initiative, the nonprofit created by Ali Berlow and dedicated to community agriculture and education. IGI announced last week that it would buy the Dunkl property with a twofold purpose: to permanently preserve the pristine Mill Brook headland for future generations, and also to allow the Dunkls to live out their lives in the place where they have been quiet stewards of the land for so many years. Without this initiative from IGI, the Dunkls would no doubt have been forced to sell their property in order to have enough money to support themselves.

IGI should be commended for this creative approach. We’d like to think it could be a model for other forward-thinking initiatives on the Island that find innovative ways to preserve the land and at the same time provide a place to live for people who are not wealthy but bring a richness of spirit to the Vineyard community that cannot be measured in comparable sales.

People like the Dunkls.