Sheriff’s Meadow: Tracking the Future

This has been a painful summer for the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the venerable Island conservation organization that was rocked at the outset of the season by the revelation that two of its signature sanctuaries had been dug up by an Island landscaper who was transporting native plants to a private property on the West Tisbury North Shore.

Foundation leaders admitted they had made a mistake; what began as a clearing project intended to restore an old meadow had gotten out of hand. The clearing work was halted. And foundation executive director Adam Moore, who had been on the job for only a week, was suddenly thrust onto the dais along with board leaders as the public demanded answers to a series of troubling questions, central among them: in the name of the public trust, how did this happen?

Mr. Moore and his board have answered the questions, and they have handled a difficult situation as well as can be expected.

Now it is time to restore the damaged land and move forward, and the foundation is doing just that.

Last week Mr. Moore described a detailed, five-point plan to restore the Caroline Tuthill Preserve in Edgartown and the Priscilla Hancock Meadow in Chilmark. Still subject to review by the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, the plan would restore an area five times the area that was damaged, with a careful eye on the distinct ecology of each preserve.

Even beyond that, Mr. Moore said he intends to review every foundation property with the goal of reinforcing the mission of Sheriff’s Meadow, founded in Nineteen Fifty Nine by Henry Beetle Hough and Elizabeth Bowie Hough, the late editor and publisher of this newspaper. Mr. Moore is interested in possibly opening up more properties to the public and he wants to explore the possibility of more agricultural use on Sheriff’s Meadow land, depending of course on the terms and restrictions that accompanied the original gifts.

These are fine goals that fall well within the mission of the foundation; in fact public access was a key component of the Hough vision for Sheriff’s Meadow.

In an announcement about the gift of the Hancock Meadow in Nineteen Seventy Three, the Gazette wrote:

“The aim of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation is primarily to preserve such native areas for the enjoyment of all who wish to have unspoiled country to which they can resort as they choose, free even of ‘guided tours’ or other formalities.”

Moments like this for any institution often include fallout, and this time is no exception. Dick Johnson, the former longtime executive director of the foundation who had stepped aside from the top post to manage ecology on foundation preserves, has lost his job. That is sad and unfortunate and uncomfortable on a small Island where everybody knows everybody else’s business. Mr. Johnson led Sheriff’s Meadow through a period of tremendous growth and change, and he quietly helped to strengthen and recast the profile of the foundation from relative obscurity to mainstream, with its now-familiar green and white signs.

But moments like this also can be an opportunity for growth and learning from mistakes. With his cool head and steady hand, Adam Moore has the makings of a fine leader and he deserves the support of the public as he steers the foundation into the future.

It is important to remember that Sheriff’s Meadow has long held a place as one of the leading conservation organizations on the Vineyard — and one misstep in nearly fifty years does not change that.