Chappy Land Gets Management Plan


It's not so much about the land anymore, it's about the people - especially the neighbors.

This is the central theme that runs through a new management plan released this week for two key properties owned by The Trustees of Reservations on Chappaquiddick.

Little changed from a draft that was released last spring, the new plan sketches the outlines for a future Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge and Wasque Reservation that could include:

* Limits on nighttime access to the beach except for fishing.

* An expanded natural history program including a visitor center.

* A boardwalk from the Dike Bridge to the Cedars.

* Year-round bathroom facilities at Mytoi.

But nothing is cast in stone, and leaders at the Trustees said this week that the key component of the plan is the pledge for better planning and good neighbor relations on Chappaquiddick, a small island located off the eastern end of Edgartown.

"We're not going to implement any of these changes without taking a real hard look and having a conversation with our neighbors on Chappaquiddick," said Christopher Kennedy, the regional Islands director for the Trustees.

"I believe that the Trustees really want to do the right thing, and this is a good plan," said Lionel Spiro, a Chappy resident who is president of the Chappaquiddick Island Association.

The plan marks the first update in 14 years for Wasque and Cape Pogue, more than 700 acres of wild and pristine barrier beach that runs for some seven miles from the extreme southeastern tip to the extreme northeastern corner of Chappaquiddick. Cape Pogue and Wasque harbor a rich variety of natural plants and animals, both rare and common, and both properties are also known for their abundant shellfish beds and prime surfcasting locations for striped bass and bluefish.

Cape Pogue was first formed in 1959 with a gift of land from the late Oliver Filley and Charles Bird. Wasque was first formed in 1967 with a gift of land organized by the late Mary Wakeman.

Today the properties are used by thousands of visitors including beachgoers, fishermen and bird watchers. But as the use of Cape Pogue and Wasque has increased over the years, so has the infrastructure and the need for more land management. In the 1960s Cape Pogue and Wasque were little more than wild and windswept beaches with a ranger on patrol. Today the reservations include gatehouses, seasonal bathrooms and air compressors for four-wheel-drive vehicles. Merchandise, including T-shirts and hats, is sold at the gatehouses, and canoes and kayaks are available for rent.

The line between commercial activity and what is required for simple outdoor recreation is sometimes thin, and in recent years there has been tension at times between the Trustees and Chappaquiddick residents who are concerned about maintaining the pastoral quality of their small island. The principal access to Chappaquiddick is a three-car ferry that plies the narrow channel at the entrance to the Edgartown harbor.

When the draft management plan was first released last year, it became the fulcrum for debate about growth, land management and the impact on Chappaquiddick from the thousands of people who use Cape Pogue and Wasque every year.

There was some dispute about numbers - the draft management plan claimed that summer car traffic bound for Cape Pogue and Wasque accounts for about 25 per cent of the daily traffic on the Chappaquiddick ferry.

But revisiting the Trustees' own data, Mr. Spiro found that the Trustees actually account for more than half the car traffic during peak summer periods.

This week with the release of the final report, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Spiro said the discussions had led to better understanding on both sides.

"This is really a communications document - what we are telling fishermen, visitors and the Chappy community is, ‘Here's our plan, it's not cast in concrete, we are fully expecting there are going to be changes, it's a starting point,' " Mr. Kennedy said.

"They have agreed to look at things on a regular basis, and they have chosen to take a quiet and responsible approach," Mr. Spiro said.

The management plan was prepared by a team of 16 staff members and volunteers, including ecologists, historians and members of the community.

"While there were not always clear answers for addressing some management challenges, it was obvious that all committee members were committed to conserving what is best about Cape Pogue and Wasque," said Tom Healey, chairman of the team, in a prepared statement released this week.

The management plan outlines 10 sets of guiding principles and includes 70 recommended actions.

Among other things, the plan calls for restricting at least half of the oceanfront areas to pedestrian and wildlife all year long, and many of the "redundant" over-sand vehicle roads will be closed, including the roads in the area at Cape Pogue known as the Cedars, an unusual copse of salt-blasted, century-old eastern red cedars. Closing the roads in the Cedars will bring the Trustees into compliance with an order of conditions issued by the Edgartown conservation commission five years ago. The plan calls for exploring the possibility of building a boardwalk from the Dike Bridge to the Cedars, but this also would require approval from the conservation commission.

The new plan also calls for expanding the sandplain grassland habitat at Wasque. The road to the Wasque bathing beach will eventually be closed and restored to native habitat, and car traffic to the bathing beach will be routed through the upper road that leads to Norton Point Beach.

Copies of the plan are available at the Trustees office on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, the Chappaquiddick Community Center and the Edgartown Free Public Library. CD-Rom copies can be obtained by calling 508-693-7662. The plan is not yet available for reading and downloading on the Trustees web site, but Mr. Kennedy said it will be soon. The address for the web site is

Concluded Mr. Kennedy: "We need to be better neighbors. We need to be listening. There are guiding principles that say, ‘Look, there is a finite resource to Chappy and frankly we can't overburden it and we can't adopt practices that put additional strains on the Chappy infrastructure.' Whether it's merchandising or tours, it's stuff we need to be aware of .

"We are pledging that we are going to communicate with people from now on and we're going to talk to people."