The natural splendor of the beaches on Chappaquiddick attracts swimmers, hikers, anglers, sunbathers, birdwatchers and sunset — or sunrise — watchers. For generations, Martha’s Vineyard residents and visitors have come to these beaches seeking beauty, respite, family fun or simply just a way to be closer to nature on an island and in a state where all too often beach access is restricted to a privileged few rather than available to everyone.

At The Trustees of Reservations, we have stewarded this special place for more than 60 years, ensuring that it is open to everyone, just as we do at our 123 reservations across the Commonwealth. We have managed the beach, watched families come to this special place year after year, protected the abundant wildlife who call this place home, and invested in protecting this spectacular natural resource for present and future generations to enjoy.

Over the last two years the Trustees has conducted a rigorous planning process to develop our next beach management plan. The process has balanced ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders and experts in the field and employs the best current beach science to protect this precious natural environment while continuing to provide access to generations of visitors who love this special place. We submitted the plan last fall to the Edgartown Conservation Commission, outlining a new, adaptative management strategy to steward a dynamic, ever-changing beach ecosystem that balances care for endangered and non-endangered species with the need for continued public access for both walk-on and drive-on visitors.

The order of conditions on our plan proposed last week by the Edgartown Conservation Commission will significantly limit access to parts of this beautiful beach and sets a dangerous precedent that prioritizes the interests of a small group of private landowners over both public access and this commission’s primary purpose, the protection of natural resources. This order ignores the thoughtful compromises that were generated by local residents and experts who participated in the planning process, exceeds the jurisdiction of the commission, sets unreasonable management conditions that are singularly grounded in the interests of private landowners, and most importantly drastically limits the public’s access to and enjoyment of the beach.

As someone who oversaw the Department of Environmental Protection in my former role as Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, I know the good work that local conservation commissions can do to protect wetland resources in their community. But in this case, it is clear to me that the Wetlands Protection Act is not being used appropriately to protect the wetland resource and instead is being co-opted to reduce public access to a treasured resource, driven by the demands of a small group of private landowners. The purpose of an order of conditions is to set conditions on a proposed activity in a wetland area. However, this draft order of conditions from the Edgartown Conservation Commission focuses more on small-town politics than resource protection and exceeds the jurisdiction granted to the commission under the act. The conditions imposed would not be upheld by the Department of Environmental Protection and do not reflect sound science.

The draft order proposes conditions that exceed the 1993 and 1994 guidelines set forth by the state for shorebird protection and beach management, it attempts to severely limit access to Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, it tries to dictate our business practices, and it would allow driving OSVs in intertidal zones, which are important habitat areas and feeding spots for protected shorebirds. Inexplicably, this condition suggests that The Trustees not only prevent access to the Gut, but that we pay to erect a coded-gate that would only allow private landowners to enjoy this beloved, public beach.

One could ask why there are so many restrictions at this beach where the town is imposing nearly 30 conditions, while Norton Point Beach has only five conditions directly related to the Wetlands Protection Act. The answer is clear and simple — the commission is seeking to appease a small group of private landowners who are determined to convert Cape Poge to a private beach.

We are committed to sharing this spectacular refuge with the public as we adaptively manage the beach as the climate changes. We ask the commission to reconsider their overreach, assure the public has balanced access to this refuge, and to stop misusing wetlands regulations to address challenging local politics. As an organization that manages 123 properties across the state and seven here on the Vineyard, with the purpose of protecting these special places for everyone, forever, we cannot accept these conditions and we will continue to advocate for public access in line with the ecologically sound care of the resource here and across the 27,000 acres we manage as reservations across the Commonwealth.

Katie Theoharides is President and CEO of The Trustees.