My extended family takes pride in our enduring ties to the Vineyard and the Chappaquiddick community. Our family history here is one of service and stewardship — past presidents of the Chappaquiddick Island Association, trustees and leaders of the Vineyard Conservation Society, members of the Edgartown town government. We are honored to be part of this close-knit community, where traditions and generational wisdom are valued and preserved.

From Foster Silva showing our father how to read the water, some quiet advice from Gerry Jeffers, to Manny Aruda and Dan Purdy helping teach us how to fish, these connections are more than fond memories. And these deep connections are not unique to our family. Rich personal histories abound here and form the fabric which binds our community together.

Even if we have not yet made each other’s acquaintance, we are all enriched by living this shared history together.

The gifts of Cape Pogue land from our grandparents to the Trustees of Reservations came with a specific purpose: “for the benefit, education, and enjoyment of the public.”

Our family’s commitment to maintaining public access to Cape Pogue has not diminished. Any future for Cape Pogue that doesn’t include meaningful and well-managed off-road vehicle (OSV) access to these cherished beaches isn’t a future worth advocating or celebrating.

Recently we have all witnessed a different kind of legacy emerging, one marked by discord and division within our community. We are asked to identify as a beachgoer or a surfcaster or a council member or a private property owner. While these labels can be convenient, we categorically reject the invitation to draw dividing lines through our community. It doesn’t matter how Cape Pogue came into your life — whether as a lifelong islander, a seasonal visitor, a property owner or a Derby diehard — because we all share an enduring love for these unique places. We are, each one of us, stewards of these beaches, entrusted with the responsibility of passing down these traditions and personal connections to future generations.

Concerns have revolved around the management choices made by the Trustees. Their decisions on how to balance public access while protecting nesting birds have severely restricted everyone’s access to these beaches. These restrictions persist, even as the Trustees acknowledge that the majority of bird losses and low nest productivity result from natural predation, not the presence of off-road vehicles or dogs on the beach.

These policies persist because beach management decisions are made at Trustees headquarters by individuals with no organizational memory of our community’s history. They entirely lack the context or even the curiosity to understand the tradeoffs involved with their policy choices. Town government, private landowners and the public are each viewed as a constituency to be managed rather than as knowledgeable co-stewards of these cherished places.

The Trustees’ investment in the stakeholder working group was an encouraging sign, but the results have been disappointing. The workgroup sessions delved into substantial ideas that would have benefited our community. Suggestions like finetuning the terms of OSV access on a seasonal basis, managing customized OSV counts on a daily basis, exploring options to maintain OSV travel corridors on the bay side of Cape Pogue Pond, and bird management policies that align with, but don’t exceed, state and federal requirements were all explored. Not one of these possibilities has been deemed worthy of inclusion in the proposed policies.

After waiting for a beach management plan since 2016 and following hundreds of volunteer hours from the workgroup members, we have been asked to applaud the fact that the dog policy will remain unchanged.

We are also asked to embrace ‘adaptive management.’ In theory, this should allow the Trustees to maximize public access with the option to make more restrictive choices if required. Instead, this phrase is being used to offer false hope that today’s restrictive policies might one day ease. Recent Trustees’ decisions provide little reason to hope that future decisions will better reflect our community’s priorities.

The Trustees’ stance on the maintenance of the bulkhead connecting the Dike Bridge to East Beach is emblematic of their approach. Regardless of legal responsibilities, the managing entity of Cape Pogue Wildlife refuge should be at the forefront of efforts to maintain a critical piece of infrastructure which serves as the sole connection to Cape Pogue for all of us. Instead, we’ve been met with obfuscation and perplexing statements like “Ownership of the bulkhead is separate from maintenance responsibility.”

We heard this same stance again at the most recent conservation commission meeting. There could be no clearer confirmation that the Trustees are not yet prepared to act in good faith on behalf of our community.

We find ourselves at a pivotal moment, one that demands that our community signal disapproval of an organization struggling to balance conservation with public access. Maintaining the status quo will indeed preserve short-term beach access, but it will entirely fail to address the underlying issues. The status quo will perpetuate a slow erosion of public access, under the guise of adaptive management, all while locking our community out of the decisions that matter most.

It’s high time we establish a sustainable vision for balancing managed public access with conservation and private property rights. A denial of the current Notice of Intent would send a resounding message: Our community is not content with the crumbs left over from chronic mismanagement. We are resolute and committed to finding lasting solutions to these challenges. And while we remain ready to support the Trustees in regaining our trust, the status quo will not stand. We insist that the Trustees live up to their management and stewardship responsibilities and that the needs of our community be placed foremost among all considerations.

Mark and Maureen Osler, Erin Osler, Michaud Jay and Malissa Osler are the children of Boyd and Karen Osler and grandchildren of Edward and Beatrice Self, and, along with their spouses, are third generation property owners at Cape Pogue.