Grounds damage weakens improvement, conservation efforts in the tri-town

Jan 13, 2018

An unknown troublemaker (or two, or more) is causing a headache for members of the tri-town’s land and park trusts.

The Charles Washburn Memorial Trust, Sippican Lands Trust, and Mattapoisett Land Trust have all reported ongoing and “frustrating” ground damage caused by trucks and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

Members of the Charles Washburn Memorial Trust, the nonprofit that oversees the care and management of Washburn Park in Marion, have lately found themselves spending more time cleaning up damage to the grounds than focusing on improvements.

Over the last several months, unknown drivers have been doing extensive damage to the park's grounds, leaving deep tire tracks in the grassy areas. The first incidents happened around a month ago, and have continued.

"It's very upsetting for a lot of people," said Washburn Trust member Wayne Mattson.

He noted that the damage has been done by a mix of vehicles. "The first incidents were clearly done by a pickup truck or car of some sort. The latest tracks look more like an all-terrain vehicle," he explained.

Marion's Police Department has stepped up patrols in the area, Mattson said, "but of course they can't be there 24/7."

Nor does the damage seem to be isolated to Washburn Park. Sippican Lands Trust Executive Director Jim Bride said that ATV damage has been an ongoing issue on Lands Trust properties, particularly Aucoot Woods. That property is located close to a proposed future bike path.

"We find tracks and damage, and of course ATVs aren't allowed on our properties," he explained. "We work with Marion's Police Department and environmental police on it. If they know the damage is occurring, they can go out and patrol the area."

Mattapoisett Land Trust President Mike Huguenin expressed frustration with ATVs on Mattapoisett properties as well. "We have problems with ATVs and trucks on a regular basis," he said. "Just last week, someone left a quarter-mile of tire ruts in soft ground at our Grace Preserve."

Members of the Mattapoisett Land Trust, he said, have tried various preventative measures with mixed success. "It's an ongoing battle, and quite frustrating," Huguenin said of the issue.

Washburn Trust members are working on adding more signage in the area, hoping to deter drivers. The lower field, where a lot of the damage has occurred, will also be closed off to vehicle traffic excepting large events like sports games or the Fourth of July Horse Show, Mattson said.

He suspects the troublemakers visit the park in the evening, as the park is popular with dog-walkers and nature lovers until late afternoon. "Who knows, though," he added. "They could be coming out here in the middle of the night."

Members of the Washburn Trust are discouraged by all the time (and money) spent trying to repair the grounds. The Trust is attempting to pave the area around the park's cookhouse, where food is served during the Fourth of July Horse Show. Concrete paving means that less dirt can be tracked into the cookhouse itself. Spending time and money on repairs, though, means that it's more difficult to get the paving done.

"We're a nonprofit, our resources are limited. We have better uses for our time and what little money we have than continually repairing the grounds," Mattson said.