Lack Of Low Beach Access Rankles Nauset Drivers

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Beaches , Orleans news , Nauset Beach , beach access

The tide near Trail 1 at Nauset Beach approaches the base of the beach's dune. Intertidal conditions in areas of the beach have led Orleans officials to delay the opening of the low beach area to oversand vehicles. NATE SEARS/TOWN OF ORLEANS

ORLEANS - In Bob Long's memory, he's been driving on Nauset Beach since he could see over the dashboard.

"I grew up out there," said Long, a Dennisport resident and Chatham native whose family has had a camp on the Chatham section of the beach for more than 70 years.

Every year, Long and others look forward to the first Friday of November, the day that the low beach area traditionally opens up for users with oversand vehicle permits.

Low beach driving allows permitted vehicles to access camps or other points on the beach during the winter months when the beach's trail system is impassable due to weather conditions. But the first Friday of the month has come and gone, and the low beach area remains closed to drivers.

The conditions on the beach don't currently support low beach driving, according to Nate Sears, the town's natural resources director. But having gone out to the beach himself to look at the conditions following the October nor'easter, Long, who is the current president of the Massachusetts Beach Buggy Association, said the town's rationale for not opening low beach access "doesn't add up."

"I do respect and understand the situation that they're facing right now," he said. "I get that it's his decision to make. I just don't agree with it."

For Sears, there are a number of issues that are taken into account in deciding whether or not to allow low beach vehicle access. Low beach driving is permitted though the town's conservation commission with an order of conditions designed to protect the beach's natural resources, including vegetation and the dune system, he said.

A corridor on the beach is established where vehicles can navigate up to the mean high tide mark, Sears said. But in certain areas, that high tide mark extends up to the foot of the dune.

"What happens is they're driving all over the face of the dune, and I'm in violation of my order of conditions?" he said.
There are eight trails in the Nauset Beach trail system. The biggest issues facing the main beach are in the area of the first four trails, Sears said.

As natural resources manager, Sears said he reserves the right to open and close vehicle access to the low beach as he sees appropriate. He added that it's not uncommon for low beach access to be closed temporarily if the conditions are unfavorable.
"It's nothing new," he said.

Long agrees, but he called the decision not to open low beach access at the beginning of November "unprecedented." Oversand vehicles are typically allowed to navigate the low beach area through the Friday before Memorial Day.

"They've never not opened the low beach on the first Friday in November," he said.

Both Long and Sears agree that part of the issue is education. While Sears called MBBA "core beach users," many of whom have been driving Nauset Beach for years, others don't understand the rules and regulations regarding low beach driving.

"I'm not saying that low beach driving is no longer allowed, it's just for the time being we need to educate folks on exactly what that is," Sears said.

"My goal is the same as the MBBA's," he added. "I want to ensure a future for the program and our reputation for balancing conservation and access."

The town has a full-time ranger that monitors the beach everyday, Sears said. However, he said he gets calls from police about people stuck in the low beach area when the ranger is off-duty. When those incidents happen, he said, it can often be difficult to get a tow truck to assist.

Long said he believes that experienced drivers who follow the town's rules and regulations are being impacted by the actions of newer drivers who are unfamiliar with how to navigate the beach.

"To penalize the hardcore group of users, the locals that have been out there supporting that beach for decades, because of some new users that aren't comfortable running low beach and can't do it successfully without having some issues, I just think it's the wrong approach.

"The reality is if you're not comfortable driving out there, don't drive out there," Long added. "Don't take a chance and get yourself screwed up, or jeopardize someone else's vehicle and equipment to try and come haul yours out."

Long said he and Scott Morris, another MBBA member, have offered to make a video with offseason beach driving tips, including how to navigate the low beach area. They are also willing to offer in-person driving clinics.

"If people show up, great, and if they don't, that's OK too. But there are people that are readily admitting that they're just not comfortable driving out there," he said.

How and where to share the video and other information has yet to be determined. Long said the town has contact information, including email addresses, for all people permitted for oversand vehicles. That information could be used to send email blasts to all permitted drivers about the rules for low beach driving. It could also be used to inform users about storm information, beach closures and other updates.

"With a few keystrokes, we could reach every person who has a permit," he said.

For now, the trail system is open, and Sears said vehicles can get wherever they need to go using the back trail.

"Of course it's winter driving and it's a challenging trail, but I feel it's less challenging than the front beach at this moment."

Long said while there have been disagreements at times, the MBBA has maintained a good working relationship with beach officials in Orleans and Chatham over the years. Sears, meanwhile, said the town will continue to monitor the conditions of the low beach area.

"I'm willing to try anything to hopefully remedy the situation."

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com