Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation: 1959-2009

Half a Century of Island Conservation

If you want to understand the enormous importance of the conservation movement on Martha’s Vineyard, walk the winding, circular trail at the Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary at dawn, just before five o’clock when a lone swan and her three cygnets stir the first few ripples in the old ice pond. Look to the east toward first light, through the early morning mists to the cattails around Old Butler’s Mud Hole, to the gentle dance of sailboats at anchor in Eel Pond, to Little Beach and beyond to Chappaquiddick and Nantucket Sound. But for the song of birds and the rustling of a rabbit or two, dawn at Sheriff’s Meadow leaves the visitor lost in the silence of a civil wilderness that seems a thousand miles from the rush and clatter of everyday life.

And then a distant car horn reminds the early morning traveler that this fragile preserve, seventeen acres of marsh, woodland and field ringing an ancient ice pond, lies at the center of downtown Edgartown, at the heart of the county seat of Martha’s Vineyard. This fragile refuge began with a dream of an Island environmental movement and an initial donation of eleven acres of land by Henry Beetle Hough, the late editor and publisher of the Vineyard Gazette, and his wife, Elizabeth Bowie Hough. The Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation was founded in April 1959 to manage the conservation gift.

That was fifty years ago and over the last half century Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation has played a central and ever expanding role in an Island environmental movement critical to the quality of Vineyard life, and essential to that delicate balance so necessary between the Island’s natural world and its human landscape. Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, in many ways the Island’s first home-grown environmental organization, celebrates its 50th anniversary this Monday evening with an annual dinner gathering at the Allen Farm in Chilmark.

Nothing is more important to the special character of the Vineyard and the identity of this community than the health and welfare of the Island conservation movement. Efforts by the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and its sister organizations to place conservation lands in trust help to protect the future of the Vineyard against unbridled growth and development. Today, the Hough dream and the future of Sheriff’s Meadow depend on the capable leadership of board president Emily Bramhall, executive director Adam R. Moore and a distinguished group of directors.

From that modest dream and a few acres of land fifty years ago, Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation now stands as a symbol of strength for the entire environmental movement. Its growth from such meager beginnings is impressive: conservation lands owned, 2,013 acres; conservation restrictions, 564 acres; total conserved land, 2,577 acres. In many ways the original charter of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation might well serve as a manifesto for the entire Vineyard environmental movement. Listen to the voice of Sheriff’s Meadow; it is as strong and clear today as it was in that first clarion call on April 2, 1959:

“To preserve, administer and maintain natural habitats for wildlife on Martha’s Vineyard for educational purposes and in the interests of conservation; to acquire, receive and protect such natural areas so that they may serve as living museums and as a means of assuring to the future generations a knowledge of the natural endowment of Martha’s Vineyard.”

Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation deserves on this anniversary the gratitude of the entire Island community for work well done over the past fifty years and the broadest possible public support for its conservation stewardship in the half century ahead.