A trail-widening project by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank on its properties has sparked strong reaction from a small group of bikers and horseback riders, who took their concerns to the land bank this week.
Laura Bryan, an off-road biker who lives on Chappaquiddick, said she and her friend Michael Berwind were biking through Pennywise Preserve last week when they came upon a land bank crew working with a brush cutter and a freshly-cleared trail.
“It was just a surprise to come upon the trails,” Mrs. Bryan told the Gazette by telephone Thursday. “They went from sort of gentle walking paths to roads. It made me sick to my stomach.”
About 10 people, including members from the Vineyard Off-Road Bicycling Association and the Vineyard Horse Council, met with land bank property manager Matthew Dix on Tuesday to voice their concerns.
In a telephone conversation Thursday, Mr. Dix said he knows the clearing looks dramatic now, but he said the vegetation will grow back quickly.
“They don’t want the Vineyard character to change on the land bank,” Mr. Dix said. “I don’t either. People are used to it being a certain way. But I initially cut those trails the same way 18 years ago. There’s visual change that will exist at least for a few months and it caught these people by surprise.”
The crew has already cleared trails on Chappaquiddick and Edgartown.
Mrs. Bryan said she was surprised with the amount of clearing on Chappaquiddick, too.
“It seemed a little extreme in some areas,” she said. “Just really wide cutting. I just hope they let it grow back.”
Mr. Dix said the trail-widening project is mainly on flagship land bank properties and main loop trails, and involves widening the paths to five feet. Some trails may not need maintenance, and others may not lend themselves to clear ing due to their location. He is also replacing old and broken boardwalks and signs. On either side of trails he is mowing and clearing overgrown vegetation and in some cases scrub oak or trees.
“We haven’t had the time to go and beat these things back,” Mr. Dix said. “They are showing their age. My commission realized that and wanted to do more or less a general spruce-up of all 64 miles of our trails.”
He admitted that the initial cutting may look extreme.
At Pennywise Preserve, for example, he said he cleared a scrub oak covering a 10-foot area that had partly crept into the pathway.
“Once these things grow back in, it will be the same infrastructure,” Mr. Dix said. “The initial cutback is what’s disturbing people. But our intent is not to make straight fire lines out of all the trail network.”
He said bikers also complained about the use of wood chips on the paths. On Tar Kiln Path at Pennywise Preserve, wood chips were used on a sandy, eroded part of the trail. He said wood chips are not conducive to mountain biking, but in this instance were necessary to keep the path walkable.
Land bank executive director James Lengyel said while the trails are open for mountain bikers, horseback riders and others, the trails are mainly used by hikers and walkers.
“The land bank’s goal in its trails has always been the same: so two adults can walk abreast and have a conversation while they are enjoying the properties,” said Mr. Lengyel. “That has been the goal since inception.”