The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank added a small but significant piece of land to its holdings at the scenic Gay Head Cliffs this week with the purchase of a single acre near the historic clay cliffs in the westernmost reaches of the Vineyard. The seller was the Vineyard Open Land Foundation. The purchase price was $225,000.

The property will be added to the land bank’s Aquinnah Headlands Preserve, which includes land at the north and south heads of the clay cliffs, along with Moshup Beach. Land bank holdings at the preserve now total 49.4 acres, making it the second largest land bank property in Aquinnah after the Gay Head Moraine, which is 103 acres.

Gay Head Cliffs consist of fragile ecosystems

The newly acquired property is located at the easterly end of the north head, near the place historically known as the steamboat landing because it was the location of the pier used by the Martha’s Vineyard, New Bedford and Nantucket Steamship Company for excursions. The first license for the pier was issued by the commonwealth in 1883. The pier no longer exists.

The property abuts an area that has suffered environmental damage from walking paths cut across the face of the cliff, according to a press statement from the land bank about the purchase, and a plan is under way to install fencing and gates in order to protect against further destruction. The land bank intends to give keys to the gates to the town and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) for use in the interest of public safety and in emergencies, the statement said.

As it does with all its properties, the land bank will draft a management plan for use of the property.

Land bank executive director James Lengyel said yesterday that the purchase has been in the works for some time and that title issues needed to be addressed before the sale could be completed. “We probably first looked at this, oh I would say 20 years ago,” he said.

And although the open land foundation is a conservation organization, Mr. Lengyel said the parcel was not conservation land but had been received by the foundation during its limited development project at Squibnocket some years ago, and was always intended to be sold. The value of the property to the land bank is that it directly abuts other land bank holdings, Mr. Lengyel said. “The land bank always looks at boundaries of its existing properties and if a vacant property is there, it’s a natural priority for the land bank,” he said.

The land bank is also defending itself in a court dispute with two neighbors over an easement to its property at the cliffs.

Hugh and Jeanne Taylor of Aquinnah filed a complaint in the Massachusetts Land Court last year claiming that the land bank’s use of an easement across their property overburdens the land in the fragile area.

The court dispute is still pending.

Members of the public with questions about the purchase are encouraged to attend one of the land bank commission’s regular meetings.

by Julia Wells