The Martha's Vineyard Land Bank, the Felix Neck Wildlife Trust and the Massachusetts Audubon Society closed on a land purchase last week that will protect the last key piece of undeveloped land at Felix Neck.
The three-way purchase marks the end of a successful capital campaign by the Felix Neck Trust and Mass Audubon and also 15 years of up-and-down negotiations to buy the 34-acre property, which runs along the entire length of the entrance road to the sanctuary on the eastern side. The property was the last piece of the estate of the late George Moffett, a Vineyard naturalist who 33 years ago made a gift of the land that became Felix Neck.
"The great peninsula of Felix Neck is now preserved in its entirety - it is done," said Augustus Ben David 3rd, the longtime executive director of Felix Neck.
One of the oldest wildlife sanctuaries on the Vineyard, Felix Neck is named for the last Native American who lived on the neck of land that fronts Sengekontacket Pond. Founded with a clear mission of environmental education for children, the sanctuary now embraces about 350 acres running from the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road to the pond.
Total purchase price of the 34 acres was $2.55 million, including $500,000 from donations. The Edgartown conservation commission donated $300,000 toward the purchase with a gift of money that came from the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, and $200,000 came from private donations raised between July and December of last year. "We did this with less than a dozen donors and 90 per cent of it with three donors," Mr. Ben David said.
The land bank will contribute just over $2 million to the purchase. The land bank and the town conservation commission will jointly own 25 acres of the land, which will be named the Felix Neck Preserve. Nine acres and a single home will remain in private ownership, but a conservation restriction will be placed on the entire undeveloped portion of the property.
A new walking trail will be established that will begin at the end of The Boulevard in Ocean Heights. The trail will cross the properties owned by all three groups and will come out on the Vineyard Haven Road near the Oak Bluffs town line.
The known history of Felix Neck dates back to the 1600s when the land was farmed by the ancestors of the Smith family, who are still residents of Edgartown today. In 1963 Mr. Moffett, an avid sailor, photographer and conservationist who had begun coming to the Vineyard a couple of years earlier, bought 200 acres of the old farm from Walter Smith Jr. Mr. Smith chose to sell the land to Mr. Moffett instead of a group of developers because he wanted the land to remain as open space.
"This begins with Walter Smith caring about the land - that started this whole thing, and then the other partners came in," Mr. Ben David said.
Meanwhile in 1964, the late Anne Hale and the late Elizabeth Goodale founded the Fern and Feather day camp, a summer natural history camp for children. Felix Neck became the home for Fern and Feather, which endures today for hundreds of Vineyard children, both summer and year-round residents.
In 1969 Mr. Moffett gave 200 acres to Mass Audubon and he later gave nine acres to the Felix Neck Wildlife Trust.
Later the Farm Neck Partners, who developed the Farm Neck Golf Course and surrounding homes, gave 100 acres to the wildlife trust fronting Major's Cove and abutting the Audubon land. In 1982, Mass Audubon took over the management of the sanctuary, although the trust retained ownership of its 100 acres on the pond. The trust and Mass Audubon have continued as partners and stewards of Felix Neck through the years.
Mr. Ben David said this week that the purchase of the last important piece of land at Felix Neck left him in a reflective mood.
"I am in deep thought about all of this and this has been a long time. I have had the privilege of driving in and out of Felix Neck for over three decades. I never thought that the Moffett land was going to end up being in a precarious situation, but things happened that made it so," he said. "Since 1982 we have been living with this - I have spent each day not knowing what was going to happen to that land. And now - too good to be true, hard to believe, what are the words that you use? I wish we had had the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank 30 years ago; the land bank has been a godsend here on this Island. And it's because the property values are so high that the land bank is able to buy land - there are many ironies here, many ironies.
"Now you will forever drive down the Felix Neck Road and you will have that canopy of trees. And maybe you'll see a deer or a box turtle and that plethora of wildlife - that's what this closing did. Felix Neck is giving back to this community, it's giving back tenfold than if that land had been developed as housing."
On Tuesday morning a group of Chilmark kindergarten students romped around Felix Neck on a school field trip, and Mr. Ben David reflected some more.
"That land - it belongs to the Vineyard now, it's for the children. When George Moffett gave the land to Felix Neck that's all he cared about, that was the only mandate he gave me back then.
"George Moffett's legend will now go on."