Local Heroes: Tess Bramhall and Pam Goff

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The pair is committed to preserving 40% of the Vineyard’s land area.

Tess Bramhall and Pam Goff share a passion for conserving and protecting the land of Martha’s Vineyard. Though they are each loath to accept the title of “hero,” their efforts to help protect nearly 40% of the Island’s total land area is worth celebrating.

Bramhall moved to the Vineyard in 1980 and Goff arrived in 1981. The women had become passionate about land conservation growing up and on-Island. They loved taking walks through the Island’s beautiful landscapes. As developers were rapidly subdividing land all over the Island, the women soon found their favorite trails blocked off with “private property” signs. “We probably ended up going to a lot of places that we should not have gone in those days,” Bramhall says to me as we sip iced tea in her Seven Gates home.

Goff hoped the efforts of the Vineyard Conservation Society, which had been operating on the Island since 1965, would protect and preserve the wild lands of the Vineyard. “The generations ahead of us, folks like Flora Epstein, the Harrises, Polly Hill, gave their land to be preserved,” Goff says. “You could tell that those days were coming to an end. There would have to be a way to preserve land that didn’t depend on people’s generosity.”

Goff had heard about the success of the Nantucket Land Bank in 1983: “We pricked our ears up to see how it was done — how we could get a revenue stream to buy land and pay people what it was worth.” Prior to approving the formation of the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, Dukes County appointed a study committee to determine how to adapt the Nantucket Land Bank legislation for the Vineyard. Goff served on this committee and worked with tech-savvy Deborah Moore as well as the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston to draft the legislation for the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. What makes the Land Bank unique is the implementation of town advisory boards that empower each town’s conservation efforts by allowing Land Bank funds to move fluidly across town-lines.

The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank has been operating since 1986 and Goff has served on the Land Bank commission ever since. She is currently serving her last term as chairman. “I’ve stayed on too long,” she says. “But it was so much fun.”

In 1997, Bramhall started the Conservation Partnership of Martha’s Vineyard with Edo Potter, Al Tilghman, and Eleanor Graves. The Conservation Partnership created a unified voice for the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the Vineyard Conservation Society, The Trustees of Reservations, and The Nature Conservancy. 

Before the Conservation Partnership, “each group worked on their own, so there was a lot of stepping on toes,” Bramhall says. 

Bramhall hopes that the Land Protection Fund, a component of the Martha’s Vineyard Community Fund that she founded in 2018, will be able to serve as an example of collaborative conservation efforts. Recently the Land Protection Fund worked with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank to acquire 26 acres of land along the banks of Mill Brook and Crocker Pond in West Tisbury.

In addition to her work in land conservation, Bramhall has also published two books. The first, Ty Loves Flowers, is a toddler’s environmental awareness picture book that she dedicated to her grandchildren. More recently she published In Praise of Protected Lands and Special Places on Martha’s Vineyard, which features Island properties that have become spaces for public enjoyment as well as for the conservation of natural resources.

Bramhall and Goff light up when they talk about their favorite Vineyard walking trails: Waskosim’s Rock, Lucy Vincent Beach, Cedar Tree Neck, Mill Brook, the Great Ponds, and countless off-the-record locations that may or may not be officially available to the public. “My dream is that everybody should be able to step outside their house and find a beautiful place to walk,” says Goff.

Bramhall and Goff recognize that there will always be more work to be done when it comes to protecting the habitats of Martha’s Vineyard, especially as sea levels continue to rise, posing new issues for Island land conservation.

“I’m not so sure about heroes,” says Bramhall, grinning as she looks over to Goff. “Maybe something more like movers and shakers.”

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