Trustees Outline Chappaquiddick Plans

By JULIA WELLS

Limits on nighttime access to the beach, except for fishing.

Expanded natural history programs and a possible new education center at a still unnamed location.

A boardwalk from the Dike Bridge to the Cedars.

Year-round bathroom facilities at Mytoi.

An extended pledge for better planning, rigorous land management and good neighbor relations.

These are the benchmarks of a new management plan for two key properties owned by The Trustees of Reservations on Chappaquiddick.

Released this week, the draft management plan marks the first update in 13 years for Wasque Reservation and Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge, more than 700 acres of wild and pristine barrier beach that runs for some seven miles from the extreme southeastern tip to the extreme northeastern corner of Chappaquiddick. Cape Pogue and Wasque harbor a rich variety of natural plants and animals, both rare and common, and both properties are also known for their abundant shellfish beds and prime surfcasting locations for striped bass and bluefish.

Cape Pogue was first formed in 1959 with a gift of land from the late Oliver Filley and Charles Bird. Wasque was first formed in 1967 with a gift of land organized by the late Mary Wakeman.

Today the properties are used by thousands of visitors including beachgoers, fishermen and bird watchers. But as the use of Cape Pogue and Wasque has increased over the years, so has the infrastructure and the need for more land management. In the 1960s Cape Pogue and Wasque were little more than wild and windswept beaches with a ranger on patrol. Today the reservations include gatehouses, seasonal bathrooms and air compressors for four-wheel drive vehicles. Merchandise, including T-shirts and hats, is sold at the gatehouses, and canoes and kayaks are available for rent.

The line between commercial activity and what is required for simple outdoor recreation is sometimes thin, and in recent years there has been tension at times between The Trustees and Chappaquiddick residents who are concerned about maintaining the pastoral quality of their small Island located off the extreme eastern end of Edgartown.

Accessed by a three-car ferry, Chappaquiddick is completely residential save a small grandfathered general store that is open in the summer. The island has one paved road, no streetlights and no town water or sewer facilities.

A proposal to create special zoning protection through an islandwide district of critical planning concern (DCPC) fell apart two years ago when residents could not agree on what new rules might be needed to maintain Chappy as a quiet rural outpost.

At one point The Trustees were at the center of the uproar, when they refused to play an active role in the DCPC work.

Spokesmen for The Trustees later apologized for their apparent indifference to the DCPC, announcing that they would launch a new management plan for Chappaquiddick.

The draft plan released this week is the result of that effort.

"The barrier beach ecosystem is a highly dynamic environment. Natural disturbance - northeasters and hurricanes - shapes the ecology of the barrier beach, and cycles of erosion and gradual recovery characterize the barrier beach environment. The Trustees will work to manage these properties in ways that allow these natural changes to occur unimpeded and will adapt its management to complement the specific character of the property at any time," states the executive summary for the draft plan.

Based on both historical research and a visitor survey conducted last summer, the draft management plan includes nine guiding principles and 65 recommended actions. The plan is marked by many sweeping statements about goals for use and management of the properties, but there are specific recommendations as well.

Among other things, the plan calls for restricting at least half of the oceanfront areas to pedestrian and wildlife all year long, and many of the "redundant" over-sand vehicle roads will be closed, including the roads in the area at Cape Pogue known as the Cedars, an unusual copse of salt-blasted, century-old eastern red cedars. Closing the roads in the Cedars will bring The Trustees into compliance with an order of conditions issued by the Edgartown conservation commission five years ago. The draft plan calls for exploring the possibility of building a boardwalk from the Dike Bridge to the Cedars, but this also would require approval from the conservation commission.

The new plan calls for expanding the sandplain grassland habitat at Wasque. The road to the Wasque bathing beach will be closed and restored to native habitat, and car traffic to the bathing beach will be routed through the upper road that leads to Norton Point Beach.

The plan also calls for expanding the natural history and environmental education programs, including programs for school children. Year-round bathroom facilities are a necessary adjunct to any program expansion, the plan says.

Lisa Vernegaard, the director of planning and ecology for The Trustees, said yesterday that the plan is in reality a fine-tuning of a successful land management program. "There is no revolutionary shift in our approach - we continue to pursue our mission by trying to protect these extraordinary ecological resources and the scenic resources as well," Ms. Vernegaard said.

"Every 10 years or so we try to take a step back and make sure that we are getting things right," she added.

The draft plan is posted on The Trustees website, www.thetrustees.org.

The final management plan will be released in July.