Tonset Landing Neighbors Suffering From An Excess Of Access

By: Ed Maroney

ORLEANS With 53 miles of shoreline, you would think there’s enough for everyone to enjoy in this town. Yet some stretches are more convenient than others, some to the point of inconvenience to the property owners whose land abuts heavily-used town conservation or conservation trust property.

Sometimes the overuse gets to be too much even for longtime Cape Codders who are happy to share their shore front, at least up to a point. That would include Stephen Brodeur, who lives a few houses up from Tonset Road landing. “We have a significant trespassing issue with people using the landing and walking to the left (toward our house) or to the right towards Snow Shore,” he wrote to DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley in September. “The area is becoming a version of Kent’s Point (except it’s entirely private property). We have walkers, dog walkers, bicyclers, and joggers. We have people walking across our property at night. We have people bold enough to help themselves to our sun deck when they think we’re not around.”

If Brodeur’s not around, his cameras are. He told Daley they recorded “300-400 people per week trespassing during the summer months and about 150-250 per week during the winter months.” About 25 percent are dog walkers, he wrote, and most are not picking up their pets’ waste.

After he spoke with Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears, according to Brodeur, the DPW put up signs marking the end of town property at the landing, but he’d like to see additional language that announces “Private Property Beyond. Please Obtain Owners’ Permission to Access Shoreline Pathways and Beaches – Town of Orleans.”

“We want to be able to allow people to cross our property – respectfully and with limits (as our private signs indicate),” Brodeur wrote to Daley on Nov. 9. “But most people think and act like the pathway is theirs. ‘End of Town Property’ isn’t enough to make people behave differently. The town is making it very easy for people to access our property. So how about the town help us and educate the public about shoreline pathway rights with more detailed language? Otherwise we’ll be at the nuclear option in 6-12 months (and lighting up [Orleans Police Department] phone lines). Maybe it’s inevitable… but I would like to try other approaches before we go there.”

Brodeur was replying to an email from Daley in which the DPW director wrote that “it seems that you are OK with people on the property as long as they play by the rules. I think that is quite generous of you. However, in my experience not all people play by the rules and no matter what we do you are going to continue to have a problem unless you post a regulatory complaint no trespassing sign which can be enforced… Not all people behave and I don’t think it’s the taxpayers’ obligation to enforce those rules on your property.”

In January, Brodeur sent an appeal for enhanced town signage to select board member Mefford Runyon. “We’re very aware of the long-held tradition of Cape Codders ‘trespassing’ without ill intent,” Brodeur wrote. “My mother was famous for it, and I’ve done it plenty myself! We’re respectful of that tradition – but we’d like some limits. What is 12,000 instances of people will turn into 20,000 in a few years – and on it goes.”

Introducing the matter at the board’s Jan. 13 meeting, Runyon said Brodeur “is a property owner whose property rights extend to the water. He does not have to allow this. He’s got a long history with Orleans, and I think he’s disposed to try to honor the Cape Cod allowance of people getting access to the waterfront.”

The Tonset situation, Sears said, “is similar to a lot of properties adjacent to town landings. At Route 28, we had issues this summer with people spilling over onto private property. We’ve delineated where town property ends at those locations and encouraged private property owners to notice their conditions: no trespassing, private property.”

“When you have 53 miles of shoreline, every property owner that abuts the water potentially has an issue,” Town Administrator John Kelly said. “The question becomes what a town can do to enforce rights on private property. That’s opening Pandora’s box… If people want to donate a sign and we put it up, the problem is people steal the signs if they don’t like what the rules are. I sympathize with the homeowner. I just don’t know how the town can enforce these kinds of things when they’re clearly private property issues.”

Select board member Andrea Reed said the town should try to direct people, through marketing and education efforts, to where they can walk on land the town owns “to take the pressure off the sites we’re not supposed to be on.” Runyon suggested imposing resident-parking-only rules for the end of Tonset Road, though he admitted that, “Most of that walking, I don’t think, is starting at Tonset.”

That was confirmed by colleague Mark Mathison, who admitted that, “I’m one of those 12,000. I walk that path with friends, one with a dog. I converse with Stephen, the owner, whenever he’s around. I surely appreciate the ability to navigate that (path).” At Tonset Road, he said, “two or three things came together” – town conservation land and conservation trust trails and improvements at the landing – to create a walking loop that has become a “magnet” for strollers.

“I think we need a comprehensive look at how we deal with all these things,” Mathison said. “Do you shut down some of those trails on conservation property or trust property? Do we say, just like the (beach) parking lots, that you can’t (be there) after 11 at night and before 7 in the morning? Do you shut down those trails so people are not out there all night? We need to have a good, hard look at all these things. It won’t be an easy fix; you can’t just start throwing Band-Aids on it.”

Reed suggested asking Town Counsel Michael Ford to look into the situation, and Runyon said he’d like to know how others town handle the problem.