At about 10:30 on Tuesday morning, on a fire trail deep in the state forest in West Tisbury, a small group of people gathered to talk about one of the innumerable achievements of the federal government’s $800 billion stimulus package.

And coincidentally, to draw attention to its big failing.

First, the success. The group, including Jeffrey Simon, director of the Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment office, was there to look at 310 acres which had been cleared of mostly-dead scrub oak, which presented a serious wildfire hazard.

Dave Celino, chief fire warden for the Department of Conservation and Recreation Warden explained the need for the clearing program, in which the trees — 50 or 60 per cent of which had been killed by the recent caterpillar infestations — were mowed down close to ground level.

If his people had attempted to burn it, there was a significant risk of the fire getting out of control. In the uncut state, the scrub oaks would have produced flames maybe 30 or 40 feet high, moving at maybe 20 miles an hour or more. Cut down, it would produce flames of about 18 inches, and spread at maybe one mile per hour.

Without the federal stimulus funds, Mr. Celino said, there would have been no such fire mitigation effort on the Vineyard last year. With it, they had been able to conduct prescribed burns on 210 acres of state land and another 300 of other conservation land.

The stimulus money averted the layoff of four permanent positions among his staff and another nine seasonal jobs.

It also allowed his department, along with Island conservation groups and the fire departments of the six towns to meet and formulate fire protection plans. It was the first such planning meeting, he said, in at least 50 years. More were planned.

All of which should be of comfort to homeowners on this densely vegetated and highly fireprone Island.

As Mr. Celino noted, had the work not been done, and a wind-driven fire had roared out of the state forest and burned down the homes, everyone would be asking, “How did we lose those houses . . . why didn’t we manage the issue?”

As for the failing of the stimulus package, it might be summed up in two words: who knew?

Eight hundred billion dollars of money was allocated to try to stimulate a flatlining economy, and parceled out in little bits which mostly went unnoticed. One such little bit, about $1.9 million, went to forest fire control in the southeast of Massachusetts, via the state and the Nature Conservancy.

The end result: jobs saved and 700 houses which abut the newly-mown area rendered much safer. But you could safely bet the majority of those homeowners are no more aware of that consequence of the stimulus package than they are of the fact that they got tax cuts from it.

Anyway, after walking about, a little incongruously, in a suit in the forest, Mr. Simon and his retinue, including Cape and Islands state Rep. Tim Madden, moved on to the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in West Tisbury, which received some $55,000 in stimulus money, to go toward special needs education.

Who knew?

Then, on to Aquinnah, where $1.9 million was spent to refurbish affordable housing and fix up the tribal offices. Who knew?

That’s the thing about the stimulus money. It was divided up through so many levels of government, so many agencies, authorities, and other organizations that collating the spending and the benefits is all but impossible.

Just to cite one example of the difficulty, when Mr. Simon’s people sent the e-mail inviting the Gazette to attend his tour of some stimulus projects, they helpfully included an attached spreadsheet, entitled “follow the dollars,” which broke down by town and county the allocation of the approximately $6 billion the state distributed.

It showed just over $19 million in allocated funds for Dukes County, of which some $18.3 million has been spent.

By town, the breakdown was about $7.3 million for Oak Bluffs, $4.3 million for Tisbury, $4.1 million for Edgartown, $1 million for West Tisbury, $430,000 for Chimark and $130,000 for Aquinnah.

But hang on, how could the total spending in Aquinnah be just $130,000 when $1.9 million had been spent on just one project which Mr. Simon inspected?

“That’s complicated,” said one of his people, when asked to explain.

“I think that probably went through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I would imagine that might not be listed under Aquinnah because they [the tribe] are considered their own sovereign state.”

She offered to find someone else who could better explain.

But the point was made: even the bureaucrats who work in the area can get confused. No wonder the public at large has so little idea of the benefits of the stimulus package.

This, some might observe, could help explain why despite all the economic good the stimulus package has done, it appears to have done little political good for the federal government.

Perhaps the lesson is that like justice, stimulus spending should not only be done, but be seen to be done.