National Park Service gets serious about Cape Cod beaches

Herring Cove Beach bathhouse

Spend any time strolling the beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore you will hear the rumble and crash of rolling surf, the chirping and tweets of nesting shorebirds and, if you listen closely, you will pick up on multiple languages being spoken by the guests of the National Park System. You are likely to hear a little French, Spanish and German. And, of course, English, but with accents that will take you on a trip throughout the States and to a few other nations across the pond. This is an international destination, a tourist attraction of which Americans should be proud.

The preservation of the natural beauty has been a priority for two generations more than 50 years after President John F. Kennedy proclaimed the Cape's seashore an asset to be available in a natural state forever more. At Coast Guard Beach the grassy dunes roll past the lighthouse and into the sandy beach near Nauset Harbor. Heading north toward Nauset Light and Marconi the sandy cliffs rise, yet face the constant threat of erosion and destabilization.

More than thirty miles to the north Race Point is marked by the familiar rolling dunes and native grasses as it sits adjacent to the barren Province lands. As the Cape wraps around at its tip at Race Point sits Herring Cove. Maps from a recent study show how erosion over the last 180 years has shaped and reshaped the shoreline around this gateway beach to Provincetown and Cape Cod Bay. Just three years ago a big chunk of parking lot washed into the sea as the inevitable rise of water levels continues and sandy land slips away.

That moment became pivotal for the National Park system in deciding how it would manage land and water and the guests that come to appreciate the confluence of both. A two year process led to the reconstruction of a new parking and public facilities that took into account modern sustainability and environmental practices. The results are remarkable.

The new bathhouse is transformative compared to its predecessors at Herring Cove or any of the National Park facilities on the seashore. The old approach was rustic, open air and showing its age. The lingering odors of urine in rest rooms and a lack of clean changing areas or refreshments detracted from the seashore's role as a welcoming ambassador to guests from overseas and around the nation. Herring Cove is now a jewel.

It features green friendly concepts in sparkling rest rooms. It includes a spacious changing area that includes a sense of needed privacy. It has multiple outdoor showers to rinse off sand and seawater. There is a deck area in the shade for beach goers to catch a break from the sun. There is a refreshment stand with quality food and drink at reasonable prices. And we have yet to discuss the forward thinking construction used underneath the structures.

Instead of building the stands on a slab of concrete as was past practice, this compound of five or six buildings connected by decking all stand on stilts. That means the structures can withstand a spring spring or a winter Nor'easter. And over the next fifty years as the natural beach erosion continues these buildings can be jacked up and moved further inland to a new site.

Congratulations to all involved in the siting and design process. Those looking to spend a day on a National Seashore beach would now be wise to utilize the near empty parking lot of this exemplary facility. The National Park system would also be smart to take this design and adapt it to Race Point, Marconi, Nauset Light and Coast Guard. That is precisely the type of experience and welcome our proud nation should offer as guests come to enjoy some of the most beautiful spots on earth.


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