Monday morning, just after dawn at Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary. The dense forest canopy refracts the early morning sun into a thousand butter yellow shafts of light. The shards fall randomly and at odd angles in the hushed woodland, illuminating the gnarled ancient trunk of an elephant gray beech tree here, a patch of soft emerald moss underfoot there. The terrier races down the Irons Trail path, stopping to bury her nose in a muddy place by the stream, still fat and gurgling in a cool summer with so much rain. A blue jay scolds from overhead. The uneven path is plaited with giant roots worn smooth from so many walkers. More than forty years of walkers, I think as we tramp through the sanctuary.

Founded in 1967, Cedar Tree Neck was the first expansion for the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, formed in 1959 by the late Henry and Elizabeth Hough when they bought the old ice house property in Edgartown that gave the foundation its name. The Houghs were publishers and editors of the Gazette, which was a wedding gift to them in 1920 from Henry’s father, the managing editor of the New Bedford Evening Standard.

Eleven acres and a dream; the incorporating language for the fledging Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation was long and formal but at its core the mission was simple and driven by vision, passion and a determination for conservation, education and stewardship of the land. Betty Hough, who died in 1965, did not live to see the acquisition of this spectacular north shore sanctuary. But she certainly would have approved.

Sheriff’s Meadow celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. A series of walks are being held at the foundation’s properties, which now number in the hundreds, with acreage in the thousands. A giant party is planned for Monday evening at the Allen Farm in Chilmark with food from local farms and a performance by Livingston Taylor. I can almost see Liv’s little house from where I’m walking this morning, in the place where the sanctuary path runs out of the woods and down to the beach, turning suddenly from matted roots to soft white sand, from beech and oak forest to grassy, rolling dunes dotted with daisies and beach roses in the warming July sun. There are whitecaps on the Sound and offshore the Elizabeth Islands snuggle against the horizon. The terrier rolls in the sand, a fitting expression of joy at this sweep of wild and unspoiled shoreline.

In 1983, two years before he died, someone asked Henry Hough to define his foundation, and this was his answer: “We’re free and independent and we act.”

And I wonder, is such an ideal possible to achieve on the Vineyard today?

Perhaps, perhaps not.

But half a century of land conservation is certainly cause for celebration.