Equipment storage and horse back riding proposed for conserved land

Thu, 12/10/2020 - 6:15pm

Conflicting uses — and how to manage them — emerged as the theme of the Block Island Land Trust’s latest meeting on Monday, Dec.7.

The first item of discussion was to consider a request to use the K and H property for storage of equipment related to the island-wide broadband project. K and H is the lot on West Side Road near Legion Park that extends down to the shore of the Great Salt Pond. In the past it has served as the location for the Pots and Kettles food truck and is used, in the summer, as a parking area for the Farmers Market and employees of the Harbors Department working in their office at the New Harbor Boat Basin.

The request was forwarded to the Land Trust by New Shoreham Facilities Manager Sam Bird as one of several possibilities being explored for materials storage related to the island-wide rollout of broadband. In the case of K and H, “small diameter conduit” would be stored there.

While the members of the Land Trust wished to be supportive of the broadband project, they were worried that it wouldn’t be finished by the time the Farmers Market starts up in mid-June.

Chris Littlefield of The Nature Conservancy was also concerned about the impact on the field from equipment going in and out, especially in “mud season.” “They could make a real mess in there,” he said.

“They have promised to restore it,” said Land Trust Chair Barbara MacMullan, adding that she didn’t think there would be a lot of traffic.

But that restoration could take time, especially if the area needed the reseeding of grass, and there was some skepticism that the project would be completed in time, although Land Trust Stewardship Director Harold “Turtle” Hatfield said that Town Finance Director Amy Land had told him they would be done by June.

Ultimately, the Land Trust approved the request, with the caveat that they be “out of there, with the area restored by Memorial Day.”

Next, the trustees discussed a piece of correspondence from three residents wishing to use some public trails for horseback riding. The letter was from Sue Gibbons, Susan Matheke, and Amy Keeler, who wished to access a limited number of trails.

Gibbons told the trustees that they were “talking about a small number of private horses [accessing] a small number of trails” to get from one dirt road to another. Increasing traffic on paved roads has made it dangerous for horses to traverse them, as well as dangerous for all others. “We used to go cross-lots,” she said, adding that was no longer possible due to development, although certain property owners have given them permission to cross their land on horseback.

“Cross-lots” is a term defined by Merriam Webster as “a short cut – as across the fields and vacant lots instead of by the road.”

Gibbons said they always ride slowly and if on trails they are “always looking far ahead” to see walkers. Addressing the concern of horse poop, which MacMullan said could be a way that invasive plants spread, Gibbons said that the riders carry “pooper scoopers” and dismount and clean up as they go.

While those in attendance were sympathetic, Associate State Director of the Nature Conservancy Scott Comings said some of the trails listed were restricted as pedestrian-only by the terms of their easements through private properties.

Trustee Keith Lang, who has negotiated many conservation easements said: “People were adamant” about them being pedestrian-only.

There was also the issue about private versus public uses. Land Trust Attorney Joe Priestley said that since public land was being considered, they probably couldn’t give permission to some without giving permission to all, and whether that would open up the use of the trails for commercial horseback riding.

“If horses, then why not bikes?” asked MacMullan.

“We would get blowback from the biking community,” said Littlefield, if horseback riding was allowed, but not bicycle riding. He suggested the riders look “at new ways to get place-to-place. It would be good to get new paths for horses.”

“That is the question we’re asking,” said Gibbons — to identify areas where paths for horseback riding could be added. “The real goal is to get off the tar and go from dirt to dirt [road].” Earlier she had identified going from West Side Road near Champlin’s, across to Beacon Hill Road and then over to Rodman’s Hollow, where horseback riding is allowed, as particularly challenging.

MacMullan asked Priestley to do some research on the matter before the item could be put back on the agenda for further discussion.

“Thanks,” said Gibbons. “We didn’t expect a simple answer.”

The trail monitoring program, which was discussed at last month’s meeting, will be revisited in January after a subcommittee does more research on the topic.