Despite patches of snow still on the ground, spring has finally arrived! Ospreys are flying over Poucha Pond collecting sticks for their nests, American oystercatchers are back bobbing through the marsh grass, and everyone — particularly staff and volunteers at The Trustees of Reservations — has their sights set upon the upcoming summer season. Recognizing what a long, difficult winter this has been, we would like to share an update about the current state of the beaches we care for, the current outlook for summer, and how our friends, members and visitors can stay informed and get involved.
The Trustees of Reservations provide public access to beautiful and sometimes vulnerable beaches, a responsibility that we take very seriously. Winter storms are always to be expected and cleanup can usually be dealt with quickly by staff and volunteers, but this year’s storms have been beyond ordinary. This past fall and winter we have been hit with many moderate-to-severe northeasters that have eroded and flattened beaches and dunes, flooded oversand vehicle roadways, damaged bulkheads and carried away dune protection fencing and signage. As a result of this steady onslaught of storm damage, periodic beach closures have been longer and have involved not only east-facing beaches but south-facing ones as well. We know that some users considered these periodic closures excessive, but we want to assure all of our beach users that we assess the condition of our beaches daily. We open or close roadways and/or entire properties based on the need to protect public safety and fragile natural resources, particularly the beaches’ primary erosion defense: sand dunes. The primary and secondary dunes of these beaches can be irreparably harmed by inadvertent vehicle tracks that are made to avoid high water. If we want to enjoy beautiful beaches for years to come, we must protect these critical resource areas now.
Despite these challenges, we are looking forward to better weather and calmer seas in the months to come, which will allow our beaches to build up again. We are planning for a wonderful summer season during which we will carefully balance safety, public access and habitat protection. The Trustees of Reservations preserve and protect, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic and ecological value. We consider Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge, Wasque, Mytoi, Norton Point Beach, Long Point Wildlife Refuge and Menemsha Hills to be exceptional properties with outstanding recreational value as well as extraordinary ecological importance.
It is important to remember that we are not the only ones who dream of Vineyard summers. There are many species of rare and endangered wildlife that travel thousands of miles to feed, rest and raise their young in this unspoiled, wonderful place. During the late spring and summer, these beaches (especially the ones on Chappaquiddick and Norton Point) are home to many thousands of rare and endangered nesting shorebirds, which are protected under strict state and federal laws. These laws govern when and for how long beaches must be closed to oversand vehicles in order to protect these birds and their habitat. One of the Trustees’ core responsibilities on Chappaquiddick and other coastal reservations is ensuring that state law regarding shorebird management is followed explicitly. Any violation of state shorebird guidelines is a matter of serious concern for the Trustees as well as the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, which oversees enforcement of the law. We know that there are those in the community who wish that more summer access could be provided for their oversand vehicles, but strictly following these guidelines is mandatory for us to allow and facilitate vehicular access to our beaches, both now and in the future. Any lapse in shorebird protection practices could have far-ranging effects on the Trustees’ ability to not only protect endangered species on the island and statewide going forward, but to also continue to allow the amount of access the public currently has to these properties.
Our priority on our Vineyard properties, and on all of our reservations, is to ensure public safety, access, and enjoyment while protecting the very scenic and ecological virtues that make these properties special.
We also hope that you will consider joining other members and friends of the Trustees for one of our beach clean-ups this spring. The first is scheduled for this Saturday, March 30, at Cape Pogue (meet at 10 a.m. at Dike Bridge). It’s a fantastic way to help us get the properties ready for summer enjoyment—it’s also a great time to meet staff, ask questions, and learn how you can help care for these special places. We also invite you to check out our website (thetrustees.org) and click on the Cape Pogue and Wasque property pages for up-to-date information on the status of your favorite beach. Additionally, you can call our pre-recorded 24-hour Beach Access Hotline at 508-627-8390.
We thank our members, visitors, friends and neighbors for your understanding and willingness to help us make these beaches safe, protected and accessible.
Barbara J. Erickson is president of the The Trustees of Reservations