Adding Two New Special Properties on Cuttyhunk Island

On June 30, 2020 Mass Audubon acquired two new properties on Cuttyhunk Island totaling over 30 acres and containing roughly 1.25 miles of coastline. This is the final stage of a multiyear endeavor to complete the acquisition of land left to Mass Audubon by bequest of our longtime conservation partner on the island, Muriel Ponzecchi.

For those unfamiliar with Cuttyhunk, it is the last and smallest of the Elizabeth Island chain just northwest of Martha’s Vineyard.  The island is about two miles from end to end.   There is a small, picturesque community (Gosnold, MA) comprised of mostly summer residents, but the vast majority of the island is still undeveloped. 

Copicut Neck

The first and larger of the properties is known locally as Copicut Neck.  This section of coastline is one of the first bits of land that all visitors to the island see when they come in on the ferry.

Penikese Island (home to colonies of rare tern species) is seen in the distance from Copicut Neck

According to Kathy Parsons, Director of Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbirds Program, “Copicut Neck is an important location on Cuttyhunk for nesting American Oystercatchers, Willets and other coastal birds.  As a relatively long and remote peninsula, it offers great habitat for some of the most vulnerable birds using the coast.”

Its protection also helps mitigate the impacts of flooding from coastal storms. The peninsula remains a beloved spot locally to take strolls along the shore and hardly see another person—a rare thing in Massachusetts!

Bunker Hill

The second property may be only 3.75 acres, but it is located at one of the highest points on the island, with one of the best panoramic views in Buzzards Bay. 

The property gets its name from four World War II military pillboxes that remain on the site and were intended to provide vantage points from which to spot German submarines.  The army has long since abandoned them, but the Cuttyhunk community, coordinating with Mass Audubon, has stepped up to take on the responsibility of stewarding the restoration of those pieces of island history in the coming years.

The view from Bunker Hill

A Leader of Cuttyhunk Conservation

It is not possible to write about the protection of these wonderful properties without writing about Muriel “Oriole” Ponzecchi—she’s the one who made it all possible! 

Mass Audubon is extremely grateful to have worked with her collaboratively during her lifetime and to have received these generous bequests of land from her – reflecting her lifelong commitment to preserving what is so special about Cuttyhunk.

Muriel’s conservation vision with Mass Audubon began in 2001 when we acquired three Conservation Restrictions on the island from her.  After she passed away in late 2015, Mass Audubon received news of her bequest of Copicut Neck and Bunker Hill.

Those who knew her well say that Muriel cared deeply about the island and its natural lands, and informally made them open to islanders who wanted to visit.  Altogether, her bequests and donations to Mass Audubon amount to almost 50 acres of coastline, shrub forest, and grassland.   

Thanks to Muriel, we can all continue visiting those special places that she loved and shared.

-Nick Rossi, Land Protection Specialist