ORLEANS — Things look good on paper. There are 28 town landings, 28 opportunities to get your boat or kayak into the water.
But “the major impact on every one is adequate parking,” Town Administrator John Kelly told the board of selectmen, meeting as park commissioners, last week. “The number one issue is, we don't have enough parking, regardless of use.”
Except for restrictions during striped bass season, when parking at Cove Road and River Road landings is restricted to resident permit holders, “all of our landings are first come, first serve regardless of residency,” Kelly said. “Summer visitors have figured out they can park there and get to the beach for free.”
Noting the increased use of landings, Selectman Mefford Runyon said he wanted to investigate the need to change some to resident only.
“It's harder to get access to the water,” he said. “Some (landings) have turned into destinations for people who can't get into our beach parking lots.” Runyon said he wants “to find ways to allow people with kayaks and canoes to have an easier way of accessing the water than now.”
Selectman Mark Mathison set out a process for improving access. “We need to have a complete, accurate listing of everything that is publicly owned by the town of Orleans, whether on the water or elsewhere in town,” he said. “What land do we actually own and control that would allow us to do anything, whether park a car or put in a rack for kayaks? Until we know exactly what we own and exactly where it is, any other discussion is premature.”
Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears admitted he was “pretty apprehensive” about changing town policy on kayaks at landings. “We do have people on a wait list for five to 10 years to be eligible to store a boat at a town landing...We should not trump people waiting to store something at town landings.”
Sears said he'd talked to his peers in other towns about putting kayak racks at landings, and heard concerns that a lottery or first come first serve system “ends up being storage for boats at town landings that very rarely leave the docks.” In that case, he added, “you have paddleboats, kayaks that are attractive nuisances to people not competent. If they're not properly locked or anchored, they can lead to ramped-up public safety operations. If there's an overturned vessel in the water, you can only assume it's a possible person in the water. The Coast Guard gets involved and it turns into an all-day affair.”
The shellfish and waterways advisory committee recommended unanimously not to support storage of kayaks at town landings until a study is done, Sears said. The group has offered to do that work and make a recommendation in time for the 2019 season. The park commissioners agreed to discuss that option at a future meeting.
“This is not an issue that will be solved for this spring,” Selectman Alan McClennen said, “(but) it's got to be dealt with. Now the towns to our south control access to their landings, and Orleans does not.”