Barrier Beach Barrier To Chase Vehicles Prompts Debate

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Nauset Beach

A vehicle sits on the tip of Chatham's North Beach. Orleans officials are debating whether to allow beach users to take additional vehicles onto the barrier spit; Chatham has asked that the discussion be postponed until the fall. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS Not everyone who sets up a recreational vehicle for a multi-day stay on Nauset Beach is retired. Some have obligations downtown.

“If I have an RV out there and I work at night and have to leave the beach at 4 o'clock, I'd like to go back with my wife and kids after the end of my shift,” Selectman David Currier said at the July 11 meeting of his board, gathered as park commissioners. “They're currently doing that in other towns. I don't understand why we don't.”

Currier wants chase vehicles to be allowed so families can get back to their campers later. Now, he said, “the rule is that you have to be actively fishing to get on the beach past a certain time.”

After 11 o'clock, said Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears, “unless you're fishing or in a self-contained vehicle, we ask you to leave the beach. We don't provide 24-hour enforcement. It's not fiscally possible. If you have vehicles that are mobile and not set with the awnings out for the night, it can lead to vehicles traveling on the beach during late hours.”

When people “don't have to leave the beach and are planning to stay overnight, there tends to be the ability to have alcohol consumption,” Sears said. “Our beach is unique. We don't have a major issue with alcohol. Some of these other beaches do...People have a few beers, enforcement goes away.” On Nauset, he said, “you don't have the option to go joy ride...A couple of decades ago, there were issues with vehicles getting stuck in the middle of the night, rolling over, with injuries.”

Currier said that could still be the case. “If I wanted to get drunk and do joy rides on the beach,” he asked, “why not just go with a fishing pole? I can go down there right now with a fishing pole at 1:30 in the morning. What's stopping them from getting drunk and rolling over cars now? If you're that person, you get around the regulation. To me, it's the same-old, same-old: regulate out of fear about what maybe one or two people will do, when this has been a tradition people have done for decades.”

Sears was concerned also about the limited spaces available on the beach.

“Allowing a chase vehicle or additional vehicle to go along would result in multiple vehicles taking up multiple spaces which were only taken up by one,” he said. “We have a limited amount of beach nowadays with the amount of erosion and shorebird issues. It's so hard for me to entertain the idea that we would want to allow beach users to have multiple vehicles when there are days when we're turning vehicles away because we don't have available beachfront.”

Selectman Mefford Runyon said his issue was beach access. “As long as we have people being turned away,” he said, “my interest is more in how to reduce the number of vehicles each household brings on the beach, either north or south.”

Alerted to the evening's topic by Sears, Dr. Robert Duncanson, Chatham's director of natural resources, was in attendance. He said he'd discussed chase vehicles briefly with some of his town's officials, and that “my recommendation to you and them is that this is really an off-season discussion.” Duncanson said there are “opinions on both sides” in Chatham, and what's needed is “a longer, more inclusive discussion in the off-season” between the communities.

Noting that “where we have possibly gone off track in the past is communications between the two towns,” Sears said, “I agree it would be beneficial to the beach for us to open discussion and meet periodically with Chatham.” The park commissioners agreed, and looked forward to scheduling a September date.

After adjourning as commissioners, the selectmen heard from someone with lifetime experience of the barrier beach. Whiting Rice, one of the owners of Camp 7, got his first glimpse in 1946, when he was a year old. Invited by chairman Alan McClennen to share some family history, Rice said his grandfather hunted on the beach as early as 1920 before building a camp in 1940. “Josh Nickerson, when he built his second camp, used the same blueprint we did except he moved a door,” he said.

Rice said his “grandpa was very active in the '50s when the National Seashore park legislation was being created...Senator Kennedy came out to our camp and took a look at it with my grandfather.” With the help of former Speaker of the House Joseph Martin, according to Rice, language was included that the Seashore was unable to take town property by anything less than a 9/10th vote, which is why the town of Orleans was added as a lease holder.

But Rice's purpose for speaking wasn't to give a history lesson. He was there to praise Sears and natural resources officer Dick Hilmer for their quick and caring response to concerned camp owners during this year's nor'easters.

“Having lived through the blizzard of '78 and seen the damage to my camp and others, you can understand my trepidation,” Rice said. “I thought the camp would be destroyed. Mr. Hilmer trekked down the beach and checked on all the camps and sent back email photos, an act above and unexpected when the town was struggling with its own set of devastating circumstances.” Rice had praise as well for Police Lt. Kevin Higgins, “whose family shares a camp out there very near mine. He also sent pictures.”

Citing the nautical flags for “job well done,” Rice said, “I signal Bravo Zulu to your staff for its professionalism and the manner in which they interact with the public.”