What is the status of the Beach Management Plan?
The Trustees released a new Cape Poge, Leland, Wasque Beach Beach Management Plan to the public on August 31. This new plan was developed in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Beach Management Plan Working Group, who worked collaboratively since last Fall to highlight specific needs and challenges across stakeholder groups and to provide recommendations on a plan that provides practical access, protects endangered wildlife and its habitat, and builds resiliency to climate impacts. Our goal has been to ensure that the natural beauty of these beaches can be experienced by everyone today as well as for future generations.
We are grateful to the community partners and members who have shared open and honest feedback over the past year, providing counsel at every stage of this process. Last summer we released a draft of our Beach Management Plan (BMP) to the public and our partners at the local, county, and state level, and asked the community to review, evaluate, weigh in with their ideas, and work with us toward a final plan. We appreciated the feedback, including over 400 survey responses, and many members of the community expressed a desire to have even more voice and input into this planning process. With that in mind, in late July we rescinded our draft beach management plan and began work on expanding our process to allow for more discussion on these complex issues with local stakeholders.
The MV Beach Management Plan Working Group includes representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard Beach Access Group, Chappaquiddick residents, the Cape Poge District of Critical Planning Concern, a Chappaquiddick Wampanoag Tribal Member, the Division of Marine Fisheries (owner of Leland Beach), BiodiversityWorks (local conservation organization), Dukes County, and other committed stakeholders. We also hired the highly respected Consensus Building Institute to facilitate the Working Group discussions and ensure that every voice was heard in a respectful, collaborative, and constructive environment.
Beginning in October 2022, The Working Group held six sessions, four of which were open to the public to ask questions and provide comments. The Working Group hosted speakers from the State, County, and Town of Edgartown, including the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Department of Environmental Protection, Dukes County and The Trustees. Speakers covered topics such as the impact of climate change on the beaches, what is required by state regulations, and protecting shorebirds on the endangered species list. The Working Group then held a virtual public meeting to ensure that the broader public could also contribute input.
After completing this collaborative and thorough process, we are confident that we have produced a Beach Management Plan that contains significant input and solutions from stakeholders and the broader public and that this plan strikes the right balance between recreation, conservation, and resiliency. No single person or interest group will agree with all the components of this new draft Plan, but we took the responsibility of finding both common ground and compromise seriously while also ensuring our compliance with local and state regulations on a system of beaches that is changing rapidly due to rising seas and larger storms.
The Beach Management Plan has several changes from last summer’s plan. These include important changes to OSV access and our beach management practices that were informed by the input from the Working Group. We appreciate the working group’s time and contributions to this process over the past year. While The Trustees is not able to honor every desired outcome from the community and its conservation goals, we do believe we are releasing a plan that addresses much of what the community desires and honors the tradition of beach access held so near-and-dear to island residents and visitors alike.
A summary of our management approach and the changes accounted for in the plan include:
|What we heard
|How we responded in the 2023 Plan
|OSV access is a practical way to enjoy the beach
|Uphold historic OSV access, including access to the Cape Poge Lighthouse and the Gut when conditions allow us to delineate the OSV corridor above the daily high tide line. We’ll adapt OSV access as beach conditions change.
|A strong preference for continued OSV access to the Gut
|Restore OSV access to the Gut when conditions allow us to delineate an OSV corridor above the average daily high tide. We’ll adapt OSV access as beach conditions change.
|Bayside OSV Access is critical for fishing, families, shellfishing, and recreation
|Keep bayside trail open as conditions allow. We’ll adapt OSV restrictions when beach conditions change.
|Protect only listed shorebird species
|The Trustees will protect non-listed species on the beaches we own and on Leland. On Leland, we will continue to seek out creative ways to provide greater OSV access while protecting non-listed species, such as our 2023 pilot.
|Use minimum standards for listed shorebird protection
|Paramount to our mission, The Trustees values rare and endangered species, and their habitats. We follow the 1993 Guidelines for Managing Recreation Use of Beaches to Protect Piping Plover, Terns, and their Habitats in Massachusetts and also choose to protect non-listed species, like oystercatchers, on Trustees-owned properties.
|Establish OSV capacity limits
|The Trustees will assess the existing conditions, ecological impacts, and visitor experience to determine beach capacity. Capacity will not exceed 300 vehicles for Cape Poge and Leland beaches combined.
|Clear and more frequent communication
|In summer 2023, piloted text messaging system for beach alerts. We will continue this system and investigate using live trail map integration on the website.
|Stronger enforcement and engagement
|OSV Training Video, required beach tools with inspections, two-strike warning/permit revocation management. All of these activities were implemented in Summer 2023 and will continue as ongoing practices.
|Be transparent in decision making and work to earn trust
|Monthly beach management stakeholder working group meetings continue.
|Honor history and value to beaches
|Listened and re-designed beach management plan acknowledging community values and historic access. Enabling historic OSV access when possible to do so without driving below the daily high tide line, on habitat or on the wrack line.
|Keep dogs on the beach year-round
|Dogs on leash at Leland Beach year-round. Dogs on leash from October 1-March 31 on all other beaches.
What’s next for the Beach Management Plan?
We submitted the Beach Management Plan to the Edgartown Conservation Commission as part of two Notices of Intent on August 31, 2023. The Notice of Intent is the application to secure an Order of Conditions that enables OSV access to beaches and beach management plans are a required part of this process. We are seeking an Order of Conditions for all historic trails including north of the Jetties to the Gut. We anticipate public hearings to begin in the fall as part of the Notice of Intent process. The Plan would go into effect as soon as it is approved, and an Order of Conditions is issued.
How can the general public participate?
We encourage the public to attend public hearings hosted by the Edgartown Conservation Commission to voice their opinions on the Beach Management Plan. The Conservation Commission hosts public hearings on Wednesdays starting at 4 PM. You can find the schedule and agenda here: Conservation Commission | Town of Edgartown, MA (edgartown-ma.us)
What was the process for building this plan?
This new plan was developed in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Beach Management Plan Working Group, who worked collaboratively since last fall to highlight specific needs and challenges across stakeholder groups and to provide recommendations on a plan that provides practical access, protects endangered wildlife and its habitat, and builds resiliency to climate impacts. Our goal has been to ensure that the natural beauty of these beaches can be experienced by everyone today as well as for future generations.
The MV Beach Management Plan Working Group includes representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard Beach Access Group, Chappaquiddick residents, the Cape Poge District of Critical Planning Concern Advisory Committee, a Chappaquiddick Wampanoag Tribal Member, Chappaquiddick Island Association, the Division of Marine Fisheries (owner of Leland Beach), BiodiversityWorks (local conservation organization), Dukes County and other committed stakeholders.
What does adaptive management mean in the beach management plan?
This means that we will respond to the constantly changing conditions of the beach to determine OSV access and restrictions. We are committed to historic access that the community values and will ensure OSV access when conditions allow. For example, OSV restrictions may occur during astronomical high tides, storm events, high storm surge, excessive precipitation, and/or average daily high tide lines are at the dune/vegetation edge. We recognize there are areas where there might be more frequent restrictions on OSVs. When favorable conditions arise, we will lift OSV restrictions. We began piloting these adaptive management measures in Summer 2023 and look to communicate restrictions via text messages and social media updates. We will also investigate the feasibility of creating a live trail map on our website.
Why are non-listed shorebird species like oystercatchers protected in this plan?
The Trustees, as a conservation organization, values the protection of the delicate beach ecosystem, including shorebirds. Many species of wildlife are at-risk, yet not listed on state or federal Endangered Species Lists. The American Oystercatcher is one of these; it has been classified as an “at-risk” species on the state Wildlife Action Plan and a “species of high concern” in the US Shorebird Conservation Plan. As such, The Trustees choose to protect these nesting birds. On Leland Beach, we are using creative alternatives to protect non-listed shorebirds while providing greater OSV access. This has included speed restrictions, additional fencing, and additional ranger patrols by the shorebirds. See information regarding our pilot in summer 2023 here.
Why aren’t dogs on leash permitted year-round universally in this plan?
It is a common practice among beaches in Massachusetts to restrict dogs on the beach during shorebird nesting season. Dogs can cause nesting and feeding disruptions and mortality of adults and chicks, even when on leash. We’ve heard from this community that bringing your dogs to the beach is a valued tradition, so we are committed to allowing dogs on leash at Leland Beach year-round because the conditions allow for more active management of the policy. At all other beaches, dogs will be allowed on leash from October 1-March 31.
Why can my dog be at Leland but not other beaches during nesting season?
Leland beach allows for more active management of an on-leash policy and the Department of Marine Fisheries is supportive of continuing to allow dogs on this beach that they own. We will, therefore, continue to allow dogs on leash year-round at Leland Beach.
On all other beaches (Wasque Beach and Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge), dogs will be welcome on-leash from October 1-March 31.
How was the combined capacity limit for Cape Poge and Leland beach set at 300 vehicles?
Calculations of the physical capacity for vehicles provided in the 1994 Guidelines indicated the beaches could hold over 700 vehicles, not including the bayside or the Gut. We determined 300 as a capacity limit based on the traffic data, typical visitation, and our physical assessment of the available space.
While working to determine a capacity limit that would allow for public access, and align with our mission of protecting the delicate beach ecosystem, we looked at historical use of OSV and procedures outlined in The 1994 Guidelines for Barrier Beach Management in Massachusetts. In reviewing traffic data over the Dike bridge from 2020-2022, including periods of high use like during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had 317 vehicles over the Dike bridge on our busiest day: June 30, 2020.
Visitation to Leland and Cape Poge (combined) during this period averaged between 150 and 292 vehicles per day during the busiest months of July and August.
Session 1 | October 17, 2022 | 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM ET