For the first time since applying to take over management of Norton Point Beach last fall, the Edgartown parks department has unveiled its draft beach management plan for the two-mile strip of shorefront connecting Edgartown and Chappaquiddick.

Norton Point is owned by Dukes County and, since 2006, has been managed by The Trustees of Reservations. In November, Edgartown applied to take over management of the property after the Trustees’ proposed plan for the beach and other properties in Edgartown drew widespread backlash.

It remains to be seen if the Edgartown’s plan, which was presented to the town’s conservation commission on Feb. 22, will draw similar criticism. The 33-page document outlines the town’s goal to balance the area’s dual functions as a popular recreational destination and a critical habitat for rare nesting shorebirds. The plan covers shorebird management, oversand vehicle access, erosion and beach nourishment. The plan also includes 325 pages of appendices detailing regulations set at the state and federal level.

Norton Point is a barrier beach known for its shifting sands and long history of breaches. A new breach opened in December and has not yet closed.

In the public hearing on Wednesday, most discussion revolved around the town’s plan to manage the potentially lucrative oversand vehicle access in that sensitive and dynamic area. Last fiscal year, the sale of oversand vehicle permits on Norton Point alone brought the Trustees $286,000 in revenue.

In previous public hearings regarding oversand access, commission members have questioned whether the Trustees should place limits on the number of vehicles they allow on their Cape Pogue and Leland Beach properties. 

Commission members had the same questions for Edgartown.

“The beach changes day to day, week to week,” said Jane Varkonda, the Edgartown conservation agent who presented the plan to her fellow commission members Wednesday. “It’s hard to set a limit on vehicles when you don’t know what the beach is going to look like the next week.” 

Parks commission member Andrew Kelly added that vehicle limits would have to be determined based on the beach’s current conditions. 

“Even in the past two months there have been major changes,” he said. “I wish I had the answer, but this is all kind of new to us, so we just need to see how it goes.”

Commission members have also raised concerns to both the town and the Trustees on whether to allow all-wheel vehicles on beach trails, with some worried that cars without four-wheel drive would be more likely to get stuck in the sand. The Trustees do not currently prohibit all-wheel vehicles on their properties.

Mr. Kelly said that the parks department is leaning towards not allowing all-wheel vehicles but may allow some models if they meet a certain height and clearance requirement to make up for their limited off-road capability.

“We’re not going to leave it up to the discretion of the vehicle owner whether they can get their car out there,” Ms. Varkonda said.

Much of the proposed plan is determined by the Dukes County beach management rules, meaning few recreational policies will change. Under county rules, events and alcohol are prohibited; dogs are banned during peak summer hours.

The parks department plans to staff the property with a full-time, year-round beach director, three full-time seasonal park rangers, three part-time night rangers, and three seasonal lifeguards.

The only public comment came from Chris Kennedy, the former regional director for the Trustees and current park ranger with the Cape Cod National Seashore. 

“I think it’s excellent,” he said. “It does a great job of covering all the bases but still leaves you the flexibility you and your beach manager are going to need to manage this very dynamic ecosystem.”

Mr. Kelly said that the town is very close to finalizing an agreement with Dukes County, with the management transfer expected to take place in mid-March.

The transition comes at a critical time for the beach, as rare shorebirds will begin nesting on the property April 1.

Earlier this month, the Trustees and the town worked together to implement the second phase of Trustees’ beach nourishment plan for Norton Point, shoring up the habitat ahead of the spring deadline. 

Regardless of whether the management plan receives approval, Mr. Kelly said that the town has already signed a two-year contract with Mass Audubon to manage shorebird conservation in the area. 

The public hearing will continue in a special meeting March 15. The beach management plan is separate from the town’s application for management, but both must be approved by state and local regulatory agencies before taking effect.

The plan is available for viewing here.