The Gay Head Cliffs, designated a national landmark in 1966 for their panoramic, technicolor clay faces and cultural significance to the Wampanoag tribe, mark the far edge of a serene town of 300 on Martha’s Vineyard’s western boot heel. The cliffs are one of the most beautiful sights on the Island — and tourists come from all over the world to see the sweeping views across the Atlantic and Vineyard Sound.

Work will include a new viewing area near the edge of the famed Gay Head Cliffs, first named a national landmark in 1965. — Mark Alan Lovewell

This fall and winter, the town will undertake a nearly $220,000 project to upgrade that viewing experience, regrading the overgrown picnic area below the Aquinnah shops and completely redesigning the overlook space above them, tearing up its impervious hard pan and asphalt surface and revealing an old World War II bunker hidden underneath.

For those involved with the project, it provides both a literal and figurative cap on more than 10 years of improvements at the top of the Circle — and affords visitors a new viewing platform, aligned with the grandeur of the cliffs below.

“This is really a beautiful, timeless spot,” said Derrill Bazzy, a town resident and designer who has helped to spearhead the project. “We try to do everything, thinking if this was done 100 years ago, how would we have done it? But at the same time, bringing in some of our own little funky ideas that might have been impracticable back then. We wanted it to feel like this was a place that didn’t have a certain time frame.”

“You know how long we’ve been thinking about this?” added Mitzi Pratt, who has also been integral to the project’s planning. “Over a decade.”

The work is made possible through a combination of Community Preservation Act funds, creative grant writing and anonymous donations — all of which go back approximately 10 years to the founding of the Aquinnah cultural district committee, a group of six to eight Aquinnah residents who had a shared interest in improving the Circle. The group, half tribe members and half townspeople, believed the Circle was the perfect place for the town and tribe to work together because of their mutual connection to the shops, lighthouse and cliffs.

“We realized that these were the things that were the most shared by the two groups,” Mr. Bazzy said. “So we really focused on joint efforts here, and making joint decisions that were maintaining both tribe and town traditions.”

In fact the improvement work began nearly 20 years ago with the land bank and town’s joint acquisition of the historic Vanderhoop homestead and its subsequent redevelopment as the Aquinnah Cultural Center. The town then embarked on a mission to take down electrical poles on the Circle and repave the path near the shops with brick. The last overhead wires were buried earlier this year. But the project that really galvanized the cultural committee and the town was in 2015, when the Gay Head Light was moved 129 feet back from the rapidly-eroding cliff face.

“It was the lighthouse that really kicked everything into high gear and we said, we’ve got to start thinking about the whole Circle,” Mr. Bazzy remembered. “We’re headbangers. That’s why we’re AC/DC,” he quipped in a pun on the Aquinnah cultural district committee.

Work began this month on the picnic area and overlook. A $300,000 community preservation grant has allowed the town to spend money for a broad swath of improvements around the Circle, serving as a credit line for the upgrades. Another $50,000 came from an anonymous donor.

New brick walkways around the Aquinnah shops are one part of the improvement project. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Over the winter, a construction crew will regrade and sod the area, building a rock wall around the outside near the road and a shade trellis over the top. There will be a similar shade trellis by the bus stop, more seating, and a brick walkway that connects the space to the shops. Mr. Bazzy and Ms. Pratt see the improvements not just as aesthetic, but economic, turning a scrubby, seldom-used space into a visitor attraction.

“One of our major motivators here has been how to get people to have in between spaces, to let them stick around,” Mr. Bazzy said. “A place to sit, a place to get out of the wind, a place in the shade, a place to have their lunch.”

The overlook is a bigger project. Currently, the space at the top of the Cliffs is covered in an uneven layer of asphalt, making access to viewpoints difficult for people with handicaps. The plan this winter is to tear out the asphalt and build a locust wood walking loop to lookout spots, with the World War II bunker in the middle. The work will be done by Jed Smith, a Vineyard contractor and member of the Aquinnah planning board.

“There’s a precious piece of history that goes along with this spot,” Mr. Bazzy said. “So basically what we’re going to do is clear out all this asphalt to expose the front side of the bunker, so you see what it is.”

The construction will allow the town to re-naturalize the area above the cliffs, replacing concrete with hardy, wind and salt-tolerant native species like bayberry bushes. Walkways will have handrails on either side with wire mesh fencing that’s less noticeable than the current wooden fence, using diamond piers instead of footings to have less of an impact on the cliff face. Steps will lead to the top of the walkway, increasing the elevation by three and a half feet and providing a 360-degree view of the cliffs, lighthouse and Vanderhoop homestead.

“It will be spectacular, and offer a view that’s never been available before,” Mr. Bazzy said.

Although the project will actually shrink the area available to visitors at the top of the cliffs, it will triple the edge space, providing better vantage points toward the sights and prioritizing lookouts rather than square footage.

“If you come up here at any given point, people don’t congregate in the middle,” Mr. Bazzy said. “People go to the edge.”

Former Manning house, now owned by the town, is part of the next phase of planning for the area. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The group also has future plans for the town-owned Manning homestead, hoping to lower the building and add a patio space out back with a viewscape of the lighthouse. They want to install two unisex composting bathrooms in the back so visitors don’t have to go all the way to the bottom of the Circle to use facilities. Money for that work will be voted on at the next annual town meeting.

Other ideas, like a restaurant or fish shack in the house, lighthouse museum, music venue and Gay Pride crosswalk are also under discussion — although those will remain ideas until other work at the top of the Circle is completed.

Mr. Bazzy, Ms. Pratt and the committee’s vision for the space is to keep it rustic, in character with the town, but safe and welcoming as well. They feel they are well on their way.

“When you have visitors come, you want to cook them a nice dinner,” Mr. Bazzy said. “You want to have a place for them to feel safe, to be able to hang out here, to spend time here. That’s Aquinnah.”