Disappearing Ancient Ways

On Thursday night the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposal to include five ancient ways in the town of Edgartown in a special ways district of critical planning concern.

Public attendance is encouraged at this important gathering, which may well decide the future of Watcha Path, Tar Kiln Road, Middle Line Path, Pennywise Path and Ben Tom’s Road — old byways which are so much a part of Island history and are now threatened by encroaching development and misuse.

If the designation is approved, a yearlong moratorium goes into effect while the commission considers regulations to protect the paths, which are still used for walking and horseback riding.

The chief opponent of the designation is the Benjamin Hall family which owns property along Ben Tom’s Road; the Halls want to preserve their right to develop the land in the future.

But part of the beauty of a district of critical planning concern is its open palette — regulations can be tailored to meet a variety of issues and concerns, and this includes the Halls and whatever property rights they may assert. Ben Tom’s Road, an old path that winds through woodlands and past old farms, has recently been used as a dumping ground for old cars and kitchen appliances. More recently a series of trees were cut down along the road.

Clearly time is of the essence. These old walking paths lie in Edgartown but hold far broader regional importance. Islanders who care about their preservation should attend the hearing on Thursday night and speak out in favor of the designation.