Orleans Opens Its Section Of Nauset Beach To Vehicles; Chatham Remains Closed

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Fewer than 4,000 piping plovers can be found on the Atlantic coast.  LAMAR GORE/USFWS 

Three broods of unfledged piping plover chicks will keep Chatham's section of North Beach closed to oversand vehicles for the immediate future.

Orleans opened its section of the barrier beach to permit-holding vehicles on July 15 under the statewide Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for Nauset Beach South. Under the plan, vehicles will only be allowed onto and off of the beach during specific times, and must provide a passenger to act as an escort in in the Pochet wash area, where there were two broods of piping plover chicks. The beach is open through exit 5.

According to Chatham Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson, there is one brood of piping plover chicks estimated to fledge Aug. 5 to 7 immediately north of exit 6 in Orleans. Chatham's section of the beach has three nests of unfledged chicks, which are foraging along the shore between exit 6 and 7. The chicks are expected to fledge between July 26 and 28.

There's also an additional unfledged piping plover brood just north of the flagpole that are anticipated to fledge Aug. 3 to 5, as well as an unhatched plover nest closer to the inlet.

“As in previous years, least tern colonies are actively nesting with eggs and unfledged chicks throughout much of the area, particularly near the southern end of North Beach,” read a statement issued by Duncanson Friday.

Under the habitat conservation plan permit, escorted oversand access is only allowed in the vicinity of one piping plover brood. Given the number of plover and tern chicks throughout Chatham's portion of North Beach, it's unclear when it will open to vehicle access. The statement adds that various factors can change the situation, and information on conditions will be updated as necessary.

The chicks in the Orleans section are expected to fledge by Aug. 5, and then “we're done with our HCP at that point,” Nate Sears, the town's natural resources director, told selectmen last week. Selectman Alan McClennen noted that the mid-July opening is the earliest in years. “Since 2006,” said Sears, who credited the late parks superintendent Paul Fulcher for starting the years-long effort to win approval for the plan. He said his staff is also looking out for diamondback terrapins, relocating their nests from the oceanside to Pleasant Bay so the youngsters won't try to cross the vehicle road.

Access and egress windows for Orleans' section of the beach are 8 to 10 a.m.; noon to 2 p.m.; and 4 to 6 p.m. Vehicles are expected to be off the beach by 5:30 p.m. and no access is allowed through self-escort zones after 6 p.m., according to a statement issued by the town. All vehicles must include a passenger over 16 who can walk in front of the vehicle through specific self-escort zones near plover nests. Vehicles must also have signed copies of the HCP procedures and conditions, which can be printed from the town website. Failing to follow the HCP procedures can result in revocation of beach stickers.

Ed Maroney contributed to this report.