Save Wing Island Group Forms to Oppose Wing Island Boardwalks

By: Bronwen Walsh

Liz Perry (ballcap) and Carl Ahlstrom IV (seated at right) say John Hay would roll in his grave over the idea of bringing more foot traffic into the marshes. Ahlstrom’s grandmother donated a large tract of buildable land along Quivett Creek to the town to protect the waterway. About 50 residents parked their beach chairs at Drummer Boy Park on Sept. 1 and planned to be there again Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. As of The Chronicle's print deadline, no date for the town’s second Wing Island public forum had been set.
BRONWEN WALSH PHOTO

BREWSTER – A community storm brews over adding sections of elevated boardwalk to connect Drummer Boy Park with Wing Island and the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History.

Some say adding sections of elevated boardwalk would spare nature from being further trampled and create an outdoor atrium through the diverse marsh, meadow and woodland habitats. Others foresee storm surge and ice flows inevitably damaging a multi-million-dollar effort to link the town’s six conservation trails.

About 50 people parked their beach chairs at Drummer Boy Park last Thursday to discuss the issue. Liz Perry and Carl Ahlstrom IV found themselves as the de facto heads of the picnic table amid “a group of concerned citizens.” An hour later, they voted by show of hands to name their cause “Oppose the Boardwalks, Save Wing Island.”

Researching all she could from the town website and the first of two public forums, Perry, a visual artist and Chronicle columnist, called the municipal vision “an enormous public project that’s going to have a huge impact on our environment.”

The idea was voter-approved last fall at town meeting as a long-term community goal. Since then, the museum scored a $1 million donation from an anonymous supporter of the plan.

Right now, wooden planks through the marshes preclude touring Wing Island at high tide. But sections of raised boardwalk would make educational tours and public access possible anytime.

Perry’s main point: Residents have taken lots of time to submit comments about the plans. “The town needs to look at our comments and take them seriously,” she said. “We’re very, very concerned that they’re not going to read our commentary.”

Lawn signs opposing the boardwalk have begun to pop up. The grassroots group plans to raise awareness on the Brewster community page on Facebook and build their own website around the tagline, “Save Wing Island. Stop the Boardwalks.”

“It will be a place where we can all share our letters and link to the town project,” said Janice Riley, who volunteered to help.

The group also may petition for a Wing Island conservation restriction before the Nov. 14 fall town meeting.

An email from Town Administrator Peter Lombardi and a permitting timeline on the town’s website estimate the project would begin in November, but there currently is no planned vote at the Nov. 14 town meeting.

Lombardi said a project cost estimate likely would be available at a second public forum early this fall. Perry said she hopes the next public forum will be a hybrid of in-person and Zoom testimony. A date for the session has yet to be set.

Others at Drummer Boy Park asked whether bringing more tourism into the marshes is against the museum’s mission statement and that of the Brewster Conservation Trust.

The boardwalk project is “contrary to what John Hay would have wanted,” Perry said, referring to the naturalist and Museum of Natural History’s first president. She and husband Ahlstrom favor “protecting this view that we could lose forever.” 

Among their concerns: Will storm surge or ice flow topple something that costs millions to build? What are the projected ongoing maintenance costs?
“There are so many questions,” Perry said. “The CMNH holds the keys to the gate, but the town owns the land. If we’re a cohesive group, the town will know we mean business.”

A link to the town’s Wing Island project page is at www.brewster-ma.gov/wing-island-boardwalk-project.