The Trustees of Reservations may be forced to close Wasque Reservation this summer if the erosion which has ravaged the southeastern corner of the Chappaquiddick reservation continues at the current rate, superintendent Chris Kennedy told the Edgartown conservation commission on Wednesday night.
Mr. Kennedy said there is a very real possibility that the parking lot at Wasque used by visitors for beach access will be gone by summer.
Wasque Reservation is used by thousands of visitors each year, including fishermen, birders, beachgoers and nature enthusiasts.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Mr. Kennedy said the question remains unsettled and he could not say for sure whether Wasque will be closed or open this summer. If it is closed it will mark the first time in its 44-year history. Bought by the Trustees in 1967, the 200-acre property was saved from development after a grassroots fund-raising effort spearheaded by the late Mary Wakeman.
“A lot of it is driven by the fact that we don’t know what it’s going to look like this summer, we don’t know if we’ll have a parking lot and it’s looking more and more doubtful with each passing day,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Will we have a beach? Possibly, I can’t say for sure.”
Mr. Kennedy said Wasque is disappearing at a rate of one foot per day and loses on average two full-grown pitch pine trees daily. Sunday’s weather forecast calls for 20 to 25-knot winds out of the southwest and that could potentially bring down five to six trees over the cliff, Mr. Kennedy said. He said the Trustees hauled away three truckloads of trees, root balls and huckleberry bushes that were deposited by nature on Leland Beach on Tuesday, with eight more loads to go.
Winter erosion takes a toll on most Island beaches, Mr. Kennedy said, with the south shore losing upwards of 20 feet a season. Many beaches gain some of it back during the spring, but the Norton Point breach that was created by a ferocious spring northeaster on April 14 four years ago changed all the normal rules. The wide breach has been migrating eastward since it first opened up. Clam flats in Katama Bay have disappeared in a swirl of ocean currents. And at the eastern end of Katama Bay, huge chunks of Chappaquiddick, including Wasque, are falling away.
“We don’t believe we’re going to see that coming back in the spring if the rate of erosion continues at a foot a day,” said Mr. Kennedy. “The parking lot is pretty dicey, so what we’re going to have to do from the Trustees point of view is develop a plan for this summer, but we can’t develop anything right now because we don’t know what we’re going to see come June, July and August.”
He said the Trustees will hold off on a formal plan for another couple weeks and return to the conservation commission with several options. Mr. Kennedy will then make a recommendation to Trustees executive vice president Kathy Abbott, who will make a final call on beach season. The beach will be closed if public safety is in jeopardy, Mr. Kennedy said.
He said about a third of the original parking lot remains today and is about 75 feet wide. Several hundred yards of boardwalk that linked the parking lot to the beach have been swept away. The fishermen’s parking lot on the northeast side of the reservation has been spared from erosion and remains largely intact, Mr. Kennedy said.
If a decision is made to close the parking lot and keep the beach open, Mr. Kennedy said the Trustees will find a place for parking that has as little impact on the grasslands habitat as possible. He said he remains optimistic.
“If I were going to guess, I think we will have a beach and we will have parking,” he said. “The Wasque swimming beach will be vastly different this year than it’s been for many years, but people will be able to get to Wasque if they park and then they will probably have to walk some distance.”
“While I think we can talk in general terms of what the options might be, I can’t say what the preferred option is,” he continued. “From a financial point of view, Wasque represents a source of revenue for the Trustees; if we can maintain it we will. It also has to be balanced against public safety. If there’s little to no beach, we don’t want people jumping off the cliff into the surf.”
Mr. Kennedy told the conservation commission on Wednesday night that he has received calls from Jerry and Sue Wacks, who own a home at the edge of the reservation, complaining about winter visitors crossing their property.
“People have been without a clear-cut beach access point and they’ll walk up through the old tire deflation lot road next to our neighbors to get access to Norton Point,” Mr. Kennedy said.
The conservation commission gave approval for a walking path to be cut to avoid any further trespassing on the Wacks’ property.