Environmental Education

Through the years Friends of Sengekontacket has been a leader in environmental education, supported in part by the Farm Neck Foundation, the Edey Foundation, the Permanent Endowment Fund, the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Lakes and Ponds grants, ExxonMobil Corporation, the Martha’s Vineyard Oar and Paddle Association, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

Watershed protection and education is central to the mission of the Friends of Sengekontacket.  With state grant funding, berms constructed near the Little Bridge and Trapps Pond inlet diverted road runoff away from the Pond.  Beds of buffer plantings at the Sengekontacket shoreline bordering the golf course were created   to absorb runoff containing fertilizer and other landscaping chemicals used to manage the turf. In 2005 in cooperation with the Polly Hill Arboretum and the Nature Conservancy the Friends of Sengekontacket co-sponsored “Planting with a Purpose.”  This program held at the Oak Bluffs School auditorium educated gardeners about the value of landscaping with native plants, which are naturally adapted to the Vineyard’s soil conditions and climate. Friends of Sengekontacket also recently wrote a fact sheet titled: "The Friends of Sengekontacket Would Like You to Know About the Sengekontacket Pond Watershed.”  It includes good water practices to post in the home as well as a map of the watershed. When the sheet was hand delivered to every household, many people were surprised that the Sengekontacket watershed extends from a point near West Tisbury Town Center and that one does not have to live on the Pond to impact its watershed.

In 1992 Friends of Sengekontacket donated a fleet of ten canoes, paddles and life preservers to the Massachusetts Audubon Society at Felix Neck to enable naturalists to conduct on the water environmental education. In subsequent years the program grew and Friends of Sengekontacket contributed a fleet of kayaks and related equipment which became an integral part of the Fern and Feather summer camp.  Kayaks donated by Friends of Sengekontacket are also available for the Sengekontacket Stories Kayak Quest. Written by Felix Neck’s community partners including the Friends of Sengekontacket the quest is an on the water treasure hunt. By following clues in the rhymed quest book and reading a hand drawn map, paddlers find six locations on the Pond.  At the end of the adventure is the quest box. It just so happens in 2008 the Martha’s Vineyard Magazine congratulated Sengekontacket Pond on being voted the best place to kayak on Martha’s Vineyard.

Held every year since 1995, the Carry In/Carry Out poster contest in the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs Schools is one of the most familiar to the community. Students in Grades 5 through 8 are invited to submit posters illustrating the Carry In/Carry Out theme. This is widely used in wilderness areas --  “Take only pictures and leave only footprints”. As part of the science curriculum students learn that a plastic six-pack ring can interfere with sea birds feeding if it encircle their necks, and small pieces of Styrofoam can be mistaken for fish eggs. Marine mammals can ingest plastic bags floating in the water mistaking them for jellyfish, normally part of their diet. Students learn not only about the environmental impact of litter but also that they can be leaders in environmental education. The 44 winning posters are chosen from several hundred entries. In June an awards ceremony is held at the schools at which winners receive their original poster laminated, a certificate from the Friends of Sengekontacket and $10. The winning posters are color copied, laminated and displayed on stanchions on pathways to State Beach until Labor Day and in framed display cases on Steamship Authority vessels throughout the year.

Canoes, row boats and kayaks (anything that floats and is people powered) compete the last Sunday in August in the Oar and Paddle Regatta on Sengekontacket Pond, now in its seventeenth year. Dogs are sometimes crew members, properly outfitted in their canine life preservers, aboard the motley collection of vessels. Proceeds from registration fees, after expenses, are donated to the Friends of Sengekontacket and recently also to the YMCA. The Regatta has a festival atmosphere and promotes passive recreational use of the Pond.  Following the races and awards ceremony participants enjoy a barbecue on State Beach.

With grant support Friends of Sengekontacket has developed major environmental and educational initiatives related to eelgrass, the submerged aquatic vegetation that is so important in maintaining the health of Sengekontacket Pond. Illustrated trifold exhibits were displayed at Island libraries. A public forum was held at Felix Neck with speakers from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and local agencies. A similar education program focused on American beachgrass, the plant that builds and stabilizes dunes by trapping sand, with colorfully illustrated handouts. Both the eelgrass and beachgrass exhibits received ribbons including a Blue Ribbon at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair; and a play “The Dunes Day Scenario” was written and produced on the Agricultural Fair stage by a talented Friends of Sengekontacket Board member, Kate Hancock.