Provincetown Life Information

Provincetown vs Cape Cod National Seashore - Piping Plovers and Dune Shacks

Published: Sat July 22, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Life > Beach & Ocean
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By Steve Desroches |

There is growing tension between Provincetown and the “fifth town” of the Outer Cape. That fifth town is Cape Cod National Seashore, and the town of Provincetown wants more of a say in how the park operates within the town’s borders.

“It’s disturbing to not have the Park Service make use of the tools to work out problems before it becomes a contentious issue,” said Alix Ritchie, a member of Provincetown’s National Seashore General Management Plan Advisory Committee.

It was Ritchie who coined the term the “fifth town.” And she, along with other committee members Kerry Adams and John Thomas, expressed disappointment over what they see is a lack of communication on the part of the Seashore in regard to the closure of the ORV corridor and the handling of the dune shacks. As part of creating the General Management Plan, it was the understanding of the committee members that the park would not make unilateral decisions, but rather consult townspeople through public hearings and work with the committee to draft a plan or response to a certain issue together. Seashore Superintendent George Price said he thought that was largely done with the drafting of the GMP in the first place.
“We did not think that collaboration ends with just establishing rules,” said Ritchie. “We can come together in a collaborative way rather than throw your hands in the air and say there is nothing we can do.”
The piping plover issue
Ritchie’s comments at a meeting Monday night were in large part a response to Price’s explanation as to why so much of the ORV corridor was closed this year due to the protection of the piping plover.
“There is no law guaranteeing ORV access,” said Price. “But there is a law requiring the park to protect the birds.”
Price said he knew it was a controversial decision to have such widespread closures. But the park is bound by federal and state laws to protect the plovers. He did add that he did not want to “hide behind the law” as the response to protect the birds was drafted by him and the park staff. There are no explicit instructions from the state or federal government as to how to protect the birds, just that it needs to be done. And that is where many angry and frustrated business owners and residents say there is room for compromise.
Price disagreed, saying that he and his staff reviewed every possible option.
“Compromise is a human term,” said Price. “If you have compromise on one side, you have dead birds on the other.”
But Ritchie and other committee members later said that if they had at least been part of the process they might have felt better about the decision. Instead, they learned of the closures through newspaper reports.

Dune shack controversy

Provincetown residents are also upset over the impending eviction of Peter Clemons and Marianne Benson from a dune shack they have used for more than 30 years. The Fowler Shack was owned by Laura Fowler, who died in January. She had an agreement with the Seashore that upon her death ownership passed to the Park Service. Clemons and Benson, who are married, were caretakers for years under an agreement with Fowler because they owned another shack close by.

“In this case, there really is no dispute on a right to access or not a right,” said Price. He said there was a clear agreement between Fowler and the Seashore. But he recognizes the sensitivity of the issue.
“If I were a heartless bureaucrat, I wouldn’t have called myself to talk to them about it,” said Price.
The eviction date is set for Sept. 4.
Thomas said no decision regarding the dune shacks should be made right in the middle of the ethnographic study being conducted to see if those who use the shacks qualify as a distinct cultural group. Regardless of what the study finds, many in Provincetown already believe that the dune shack dwellers are a distinct cultural group of friends and family that goes back for generations.
“What do they have to prove is my only question,” said Richard Olson, asking a somewhat rhetorical question pointing to the self-evident nature of the dune shack culture.
The selectmen and advisory committee implored Price to meet with the Provincetown ORV and dune shack subcommittee to begin more productive and thorough talks, to which Price agreed.

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