Sipson Island Emerges From The Mists, Displays Its Virtues

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Development , Orleans news

Diane Landau, a board member of the Sipson Island Trust, led the shoeless surge through the surf ahead of Michael Lach of the Harwich Conservation Trust. Barry Donahue Photo

ORLEANS Beaming like Shakespeare's Prospero, Alan McClennen descended a long flight of stairs to welcome visitors to Sipson Island last week. No tempest drove the electric-powered vessel Friends of Pleasant Bay ashore; in fact, the floating classroom disembarked its passengers in knee-high water.

After striding through the surf like General MacArthur making good on his “I shall return” vow, the group of environmentalists and members of the press wiped the sand off their feet, put their shoes and socks back on (all except Wellfleet Audubon Sanctuary's Bob Prescott, who remained unshod), and followed Rich and Cheryl Nadler on a tour of what some have called “the crown jewel of Pleasant Bay.”

The Nadlers came forward recently as the buyer-backers who agreed to acquire Sipson Island and then sell most of it back to the Sipson Island Trust, retaining two acres and a cottage for themselves under a conservation restriction. The Friends of Pleasant Bay aims to raise $3.4 million toward the purchase. This Monday, town meeting will be asked to spend $1.5 million in community preservation funds to acquire a conservation restriction and public access to 18 of the island's 24 acres. The remaining two acres would be reserved by the Trust for a potential research and education center, again under a conservation restriction.

“Sipson Island is the only island in Pleasant Bay surrounded by beaches,” Friends of Pleasant Bay President Mon Cochran said as the “floating classroom” made its way from Pleasant Bay Community Boating. “The rest have substantial salt marshes.” That means ease of access by boats, canoes, kayaks, and the like. That was illustrated when the press boat boarded from the western shore for the return trip via a gangway settled into the sand – no wading necessary.

Prescott, who is vice president of the Sipson Island Trust, said the island's sandy beaches are a great nesting area for the belted kingfisher and other birds that don't thrive on a shore that's been armored. He said he looked forward to bringing students to the island, a theme echoed by Cochran.

On the island, visitors were led up a broad mowed path from the beach to an equipment garage that sports a humorous signboard: “Motor Lodge.” Farther up the rise is a guest house destined for removal and then “Jumbo,” the main house, which may be converted to an education center. The building, big as it is, is a good fit on the land, with plenty of open space ringed by tall trees.

Down a slope to the northeast is what might have been a ceremonial rock used by Native Americans; a shell midden toward the water is nearby. Cochran said the Friends of Pleasant Bay is working to establish ties with the Cape's Wampanoag.

An open green lawn toward the northwest runs down to the shore. A three-bedroom house permitted for this location would not be built if the Sipson Island Trust acquires the property. A boathouse at the water has been torn down, but a permit remains for a dock. That might be a future use that would help the town monitor the channel, according to Corcoran, who's discussed the possibility with Natural Resource Manager Nate Sears.

Another broad path leads to a boathouse on the western shore, which will remain. Then it's up the hill again past another guest house that would be removed. As the path continues, unobstructed views of the bay dominate.

The cottage that would be retained by the Nadlers faces east and includes a deck and a private dock. It's evident that erosion will probably require that it be moved back on the property at some point, a task made simpler as it sits on cinder blocks.

A stroll back across the island and then south brought the visitors to a large wooden observation deck. From this point, there's pretty thick brush to the southern tip of the island, but a path could be cut through. Heading back north leads to a broad meadow.

Walking through the woods back to the boat, one visitor seemed to sum things up: “There's nothing like this anywhere else.”