One of the last undisturbed frost bottoms on the Vineyard has been placed in conservation thanks to a purchase by The Nature Conservancy completed last month.
The 100-acre tract that harbors rare habitat lies deep in the woods of West Tisbury off the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, abutting Long Point Wildlife Refuge.
The conservancy paid $881,866 for the land. The sale involved a complex title search of more than 2,000 small parcels that were created in the early 1900s and given away as a promotional stint for Dr. Flint’s Quaker Bitters, a tonic advertised to contain medicinal remedies. As such, the land became known as the Medicine Lots.
Matt Pelikan, restoration ecologist for The Nature Conservancy Vineyard office, said the Medicine Lots have been a priority for the conservancy for 10 years.
“It’s been a property we’ve been working on for quite some time and has always been identified as a priority for conservation partnership in addition to it being a Conservancy priority,” Mr. Pelikan said. “There aren’t a lot of 100 acres of undeveloped land, period, and all the ones that do remain deserve to be high priorities for protection. There are certainly not many frost bottoms left intact.”
Frost bottoms are remnants of ancient riverbeds that were created by the outflow of glacial waters at the end of the last ice age. The valleys have extreme temperature differentials, and collect cold air at night and warm air doing the day. On even the hottest summer days, early mornings often see frost in these areas. Rare vegetation and insect life are found in the deep, wooded pockets.
“It is a type of habitat that’s rare to start with and a lot of them have been lost to development,” Mr. Pelikan said. He said the goals of the purchase were habitat protection, connecting neighboring conservation lands and groundwater protection. The property lies low in the watershed for the Tisbury Great Pond.
The property is strategically important because it connects the state forest and a nearby residential development.
“The Medicine Lots tract is one of the few remaining stretches of natural habitat that connects through that residential development,” Mr. Pelikan said. “The connectivity value of the property is also strategically significant because it breaks through the barrier of a residential development.”
By removing the development potential for the land the purchase also diminishes the nitrogen loading impact on the watershed, he said.
“That’s a very high priority for the conservancy,” Mr. Pelikan said.
A management plan for the property is in progress that is expected to include public access, Mr. Pelikan said. He said the land eventually may be transferred to The Trustees of Reservations which owns Long Point Wildlife Refuge.
Fred Roven of Martha’s Vineyard Buyers Agent represented the sellers. The sale followed 13 years of research and dealings, and in the end involved about 15 majority title holders, he said.
“There were significant title issues,” Mr. Roven said.
The Flint Remedy Company of New Bedford acquired the 100 acres at the turn of the century and divided it into 2,345 lots that measured 25 by 75 feet. Most of the owners were from Bristol County, though most lots were never developed. Some were sold outright and about 500 were packaged as giveaways to be included with the purchase of the company’s product, Dr. Flint’s Quaker Bitters.
The bitters were made between 1885 and 1906. According to the National Museum of American History, the bitters were intended for a stomach tonic, used to cure nervousness, scrofulous humor, canker, summer complaints, female weaknesses, malaria and torpidity of the system.
Now the land will be permanently conserved. “It isn’t much to look at but it’s a good example of sandplain habitat, and with appropriate management, could be an even better habitat in the future,” Mr. Pelikan said.