The Buzzards Bay Coalition and its partners—the Town of Gosnold, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bouchard 120 Oil Spill Natural Resources Damages Trustee Council and 198 private donors—completed a $6.1 million acquisition of 68 acres, much of which had been placed on the market for potential development.
The acquisition complements the donation of a conservation restriction on a separate 250-acre property on the island’s western end. Together, the two conservation actions protect more than 300 acres of land and more than 5 miles of Massachusetts coastline—nearly all of the island’s remaining large developable property.
“Protecting and permanently preserving such a significant portion of Cuttyhunk is a truly historic achievement for the long-term protection of Buzzards Bay,” said Buzzards Bay Coalition President Mark Rasmussen. “This is one of our region’s most unique landscapes. A broad coalition of public and private partners came together to not only protect Cuttyhunk, but also to ensure that the public can continue to enjoy these treasures of the Elizabeth Islands.”
The land protected last week was purchased from the descendants of turn-of-the-century industrialist William Wood who began purchasing much of the land on Cuttyhunk beginning in 1905 and built the island’s two great houses—Avalon and Winter House. “As stewards of much of the undeveloped land on Cuttyhunk, and following in the tradition of our great-grandfather, William Wood, who established our family’s foothold on Cuttyhunk, we are proud to participate in this preservation plan of our beloved island,” commented Van Spaulding on behalf of his family.
The 68 acres of land purchased by the Coalition and its partners include Barges Beach, the scenic Lookout and Bayberry Hills, a portion of Copicut Neck—all of which will be owned and managed by the Coalition—and Church’s Beach, which will be owned by the Town of Gosnold. All of the properties will be managed as public reserves, ensuring public access to these beautiful, ecologically unique environments. Days spent swimming, picnicking, and fishing at Barges and Church’s beaches and walks up to the stunning views from the top of Cuttyhunk’s highest points will remain forever part of life on Cuttyhunk.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) hailed the acquisition. “I am glad to see more than 300 acres of Cuttyhunk Island’s natural habitat preserved and recognize the dedication from all our community partners to make it happen,” Sen. Warren said. “Thanks to the efforts of the Buzzard Bay Coalition over the past two years, we are able to ensure these exceptional lands and natural habitats are preserved, managed, and protected for generations to come.”
Congressman Bill Keating (D-MA) said, “The environmental benefits of permanently protecting land on Cuttyhunk cannot be understated—and residents of the island and visitors arriving on the ferry from New Bedford will be able to enjoy this land, undeveloped and pristine, for generations to come. I applaud Mark Rasmussen and the Buzzards Bay Coalition for leading the coalition of municipal, state, and federal government partners as well as the private donors who made this transaction possible.”
Members of the area’s state legislative delegation also joined in praise for the accomplishment. “The Town of Gosnold and the Buzzards Bay Coalition have secured a once-in-a-generation opportunity for open space preservation in Massachusetts,” said State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “At long last, this agreement realizes the ambitious vision to make Cuttyhunk’s remaining lands protected and open to the public for many lifetimes to come.”
“The conservation of these lands is a historic accomplishment that will benefit countless members of the Commonwealth for years to come,” said State Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D – Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Thank you to the truly impressive number of residents, officials, and organizations who came together to protect these irreplaceable natural resources.”
State Representative Dylan Fernandes (D-Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket) said, “Cuttyhunk is perhaps the most unique and beautiful community in the Commonwealth and this deal will preserve this island home for perpetuity. It was an honor to play a small role in what was truly an island-led effort with tremendous support from the Buzzards Bay Coalition.”
Beyond public access and recreation, the acquisition will further a number of important conservation purposes. For example, the two beaches bookend the island’s federally recognized “harbor of refuge,” an important navigational feature at the entrance to Buzzards Bay. The protected land will also preserve water quality, both of the Bay and of the island’s only public drinking water supply, as well as protect unique maritime island vegetation and a variety of birds, fish and wildlife, including rare species.
“I want to commend the Buzzards Bay Coalition and the Town of Gosnold on this great accomplishment to protect more than 300 acres of land on Cuttyhunk—more than one half of the island,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “The Baker-Polito Administration was proud to support this project, which will ensure that Massachusetts residents will be able to enjoy this unrivaled landscape for years to come, protect the island’s drinking water supply and provide coastal habitats threatened by sea level rise room to prosper into the future.”
With its miles of shoreline and system of three coastal ponds, the beauty and natural resource significance of the West End landscape is unmatched on Buzzards Bay.
Earlier this year, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts awarded $1.4 million for the project through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Action grant program, which aims to strengthen the Bay State’s resilience in the face of climate change and rising sea levels.
Two large federal grants—$1.15 million from the Bouchard 120 Oil Spill Trustee Council and $1 million from the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program—focused on preservation of the island’s unique habitats and wildlife. The Trustee Council is composed of representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, representing the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs; Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and United States Fish and Wildlife Service, representing the U.S Department of the Interior.
“Protecting Cuttyhunk Island is a fitting way to help offset the 2003 oil spill, which coated the island’s shores,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Wendi Weber on behalf of the Bouchard oil spill trustees. “This endeavor, funded also by a coastal wetland conservation grant, will ensure that the island’s shores and waters are healthy and support shellfish, fish, and birds, including the common eider, piping plover, and American oystercatcher, and, importantly, that the beautiful scenery and wildlife viewing are available for people to enjoy.”
Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), who chaired the Buzzards Bay Oil Spill Commission that created aggressive state laws to prevent future oil spills, said: “The 2003 Bouchard oil spill devastated the beautiful coastline and ocean waters throughout Buzzards Bay. This preservation of pristine coastal habitat will ensure our community can continue to swim, fish, and enjoy this beautiful island while also protecting an environment devastated by that negligent spill so many years ago. For countless years, Mark Rasmussen and his team have remained committed to protecting our beautiful bay, and we remain thankful for their hard work and perseverance.”
In spring of 2019, voters at the Gosnold Town Meeting unanimously approved contributing $400,000 to the campaign. “The selectmen are thrilled that the Coalition’s acquisition of these 68 acres and a conservation restriction on additional acreage will preserve these extraordinary lands for future generations to enjoy. We are so appreciative to the many supporters who made these acquisitions possible, and look forward to our continuing partnership with the Coalition,” said Gail Blout, chair of the Town of Gosnold’s Board of Selectmen.
The project was also awarded a $400,000 state L.A.N.D. (Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity) grant, a $300,000 state grant to guard the public drinking water supply on the island and a Municipal Mini-grant from the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program, a joint program of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“We are happy to do our part to support Gosnold and congratulate the Buzzards Bay Coalition for their successful efforts to cobble together grants, coordinate programs and work with Gosnold residents to secure much needed matching funds to make the protection of these 68 acres of important coastal habitat and natural resources reality,” said Joe Costa, Executive Director of the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program.
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) helped to coordinate one of the large federal grants and the overall effort received important technical support from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
“The Baker-Polito Administration works incredibly hard to foster strong partnerships that advance conservation goals and outcomes that greatly benefit the public,” said DCR Commissioner Jim Montgomery. “This land on Cuttyhunk is now held for future generations to enjoy the opportunity to experience this exceptional natural resource for years to come.”
Completing the fundraising was $1.4 million in private donations from 198 Cuttyhunk residents and people who cherish the island.
The Buzzards Bay Coalition will manage and care for these lands into the future. Trails will be improved over the winter with an expected Reserve Opening in Spring 2021. To learn more about the Buzzards Bay Coalition and land conservation on Buzzards Bay, visit www.savebuzzardsbay.org.