Imagine 10 McMansions overlooking the Forest Beach marsh and perhaps as many as two dozen luxury homes on Ryder's Cove and the inland property just across Route 28. Nearly 90 acres of land inaccessible to the public, kept for private use by people who might spend a few months out of the year in their castles near the shore.
That might have been the case at the 73-acre former Marconi transmission site in South Chatham and the 13-plus acres in Chathamport that served as the receiving station for the famous ship-to-shore radio station. But 20 years ago, a process began that resulted in both properties being preserved for public use.
It was 20 years ago this month that a group of South Chatham residents rallied by Maraide Sullivan met for the first time. The 40 people who met in Sullivan's living room coalesced into the Friends of Forest Beach, who spearheaded the drive to protect what today we know as the Marconi properties, but which at the time were owned by MCI WorldCom. As detailed in this issue's front page story, their efforts eventually led to the corporation giving up plans to sell the property on the open market – which could have resulted in the above scenario – and agreeing to sell to the town for just under $1 million.
Today the value of that land is nearly incalculable. The transmission station and towers were removed and the Forest Beach property is now a conservation area, a welcome patch of nature amid the densely developed neighborhood where ospreys nest and folks can view the marsh and shore beyond. The historic buildings on the Chathamport campus have been preserved and are all being used, either for housing or by the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center, a nonprofit organization that has created a Mecca for wireless and radio enthusiasts. It could be argued that this was if not the most, then one of the most significant “save” of potentially developable property in the town's history.
As is usually the case with such situation, the people who began what would eventually become the town acquisition of the MCI properties didn't have a grand vision beyond saving land they saw as precious to their neighborhood. Ultimately, however, they started something that benefited countless people and made Chatham a better place. They will remain our Friends for life.