Yesterday I was looking for some new walking trails near our rental on Arey’s Pond, Cape Cod. Just down the drive is a conservation land trail leading to the river. The tourist brochure mentioned Sea Call Farm on Tonset road (town cove), Baker’s Pond in Nickerson State Park and Namequoit Point. When traveling or on vacation I like a mix of the familiar and the new. All of these sounded like new walks.
More exciting was a new area of the National Seashore. Typically the accessible Seashore is north, Eastham to Proviencetown. Beaches, trails, visitor’s centers. But here was a narrow spit of land heading south between Orleans toward Chatham. On Google there seemed to be a road with one access — Pochet road. This was a place to explore. We found Pochet road, winding through a residential neighborhood. As we got closer to what the GPS and Google labeled National Seashore, we encountered a sign — Private Road. We continued. In a quarter of a mile we encountered an older guy sitting at a table by the side of the road. He had signs which basically communicated only certain people could proceed. I told him I was looking at a map which showed National Seashore ahead. He assured me that since the restaurant about a mile back, all was private property.
“These people pay thousands in taxes,” he explained. “They want their privacy. That’s why they hire me.” I replied that I understood but the map showed National Seashore ahead. “No, it’s all private he continued.” We complied and turned around. Was Google Maps wrong?
We spent several hours checking out two of the other new trails. Back at the house on the Internet I looked at the National Seashore’s official map. Yes the barrier spit in question was National Seashore. Wish I had a brochure map to share with that guard. I searched the Internet. There wasn’t a lot of information. One interesting article said that the Feds were evicting and tearing down about six beach shacks on the spit across from Chatham. Seems people paid about $7,000 or so in federal taxes. Access was only by boat. Locals were enraged. When the National Seashore came in the 1960, local culture and tradition was suppose to be maintained. But it was National Seashore. The road shown on Google Maps may be for property owners, or vehicles with beach driving permits. I need to do additional research.
I’ll admit I was annoyed not to have access. I don’t like the Private Property, No Tresspassing signs that announce our limited access to the sea — particularly beaches along the oceans. I’ve driven down too many bay side and ocean roads lined with houses. No access. My beach walking has been stopped too many times by a sign and maybe fence, Private Property: No Tresspassing. I’ve always been startled by the difference between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The former, private estates, limited beach access; the latter more public beaches and access.
Later in the day, I began a re-read, “The Coast: A Journey Down the Atlantic Shore.” In the 1990s Joseph Thorndike walked Cape Cod and then decided to explore the whole Atlantic Coast. His book is like a State of the Atlantic Coast — some history, the present and future. In the introduction, he writes, “At the same time more and more people want to get to the shore, more and more of the shore is being closed to them. If in time we learn to restore and protect the coast, whose coast will it be? Everyone’s or only the shorefront property owners? ” Only 6 % of the Atlantic shoreline is public; increasingly along the rest read Private Property: No Tresspassing.
If interested you can check out English enclosure law; or colonial and state laws that reference high water and low water property rights. Difficult access, however, is not a new thing. In 1909, Holman Day wrote, “Cove and cape, the coast is pretty much monopolized by non by non-residents. ‘No Tresspass signs are so thickly set that they form a blazed trail.” The non-residents were summer vacationers.
Its increasingly difficult today to get to the water. We need a movement. Open, free beaches for all. Join me.