Coast & Sustainability

Winter Stewardship on Martha’s Vineyard

Our stewardship team works year round to ensure our special places can be enjoyed in all seasons.

While our Martha’s Vineyard properties may be their busiest in the summer and shoulder seasons, stewardship of the properties remains a priority year-round. Year-round staff on the Vineyard, including Island stewards Dan, Eli, and Oliver, ensure that these places can be visited and enjoyed in all seasons.

A major component of this work is keeping people, creatures, and the natural landscape safe. Island stewards dedicate time to active patrols, storm response, and help with animal strandings alongside other day-to-day tasks.

In late November 2022, a mother and baby pair of common dolphins became stranded in Katama Bay. The staff on Island worked with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah Natural Resources Department, who were certified to help the cold-stunned animals. “When there’s a stranding, a big part of our role is explaining to any onlookers the animal’s species, why they may have beached, and to ensure that we are reaching out to the proper authorities that can help,” explained Dan Karparis, Island Steward. “It’s cool but can also be sad to see these animals stranded.” The effort to support these dolphins brought together Island locals and professionals, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Trustees’ staff and volunteers, and the calf, with vitamins and hydration, was released back into the sea with a satellite tag.

As the cool temperatures settle in, there are fewer strandings, but more winter storm events. In December, a particularly windy winter storm led to a breach at Norton Point Beach that is causing open ocean water to exchange with the water in Katama Bay. And record-setting cold temperatures in January that were accompanied by gale-force winds brought their own unique set of challenges. “Storms require a lot of preparation,” explained Dan. “We need to make sure we have our chainsaws out and ready, and that everything is gassed up and prepared so that we can respond.”

two stewards stand on the coast of Martha's Vineyard
four men carry a standard dolphin to safety in a red blanket

Each of these storms bring different challenges for the several different properties found on the Island, and often the stewards can predict how different storm paths will affect various properties. “Up-Island storm response is different,” explained Eli Ptaszynski, Island Steward. “Long Point doesn’t have nearly as much beach, but I still need to scan the beach, especially for trash that washes up, and look for any erosion of the dunes. And there are a lot of trees up in Menemsha Hills, so we need to do a full trail scan after high winds.”

Following the January storm, Eli, Dan and Oliver braved the lingering cold to spend time walking all of the trails at Menemsha Hills. While they are each responsible for a specific set of properties, they often join each other as an extra set of eyes on these more intense walk-throughs. They spent about an hour looking for water erosion, especially on the steeper parts of the walking path, any hanging branches that may be at risk of falling, and any fallen trees.

At Norton Point, stewards dug up fence posts that had been buried by significant overwash due to the exchange of ocean water into Katama Bay. The strength of the storm carried significant amounts of sand with the water, covering poles that outlined OSV and pedestrian trails. As the rain continued to pour, Oliver and Eli closed the OSV trails to cut buried ropes, remove poles that had been buried and moved by traveling sand, and replace them as necessary. Some poles were buried by as much as four additional feet of sand, making them barely visible. The stewards’ work ensured continued vehicle and pedestrian safety at the beach following the storm.

a truck drives over a flooded beach road

Scans of the properties happen often, with less frequency during lulls where there aren’t as many storms. On the beach, this means spending time out in vehicles on active patrol, taking time to closely monitor conditions and look for anything out of the ordinary, whether that be trash washed up on the beach, further erosion, or something like a dolphin stranding. Other maintenance, like grading trails so they are passable, happen with less frequency and on an as-needed basis, done to ensure that anyone accessing our properties can do so easily and safely. The buildings on Trustees properties take a little more care in the winter as well. “Long Point has a cabin, and in the winter, no one is in there. I go in there to make sure the heat is still running, and the pipes aren’t frozen,” Eli explained. When summer arrives, with seasonal staff and many more visitors, the checks for maintenance aren’t necessary.

The winter provides an opportunity for Oliver to tend to the many plants found in the Mytoi gardens, as he prepares them for the upcoming season. This includes installing deer fencing to protect the ecology as much as possible, steel edging work, and constant pruning while the plants are in their dormant state over the winter.

The off-season provides much-needed time to take stock of the conditions of properties, provide them with care, and to prepare for the very hectic busy season. “Because the summer is so busy, we always have it in mind,” Dan shared. Whether that’s reaching out to seasonal staff to see if they will be returning, dedicating a day to take vehicles off-Island for service, or other general preparation, Island stewards never face a dull moment even on the off-season. Most recently, they have been tasked with mowing of the globally rare sandplain grasslands that are found at Long Point and Wasque, and creating fire breaks in those habitats for upcoming prescribed burns in partnership with The Nature Conservancy.

If you or anyone you know is interested in helping to steward Island properties, click here to learn more.

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