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Background photo by Don Sylor

When we were working on the Herring River Restoration, there were all sorts of differences of opinion and people were worried about the unknowns of what would happen. Ted Kennedy told me, “You know, Gordon, what I try to remember is that we don’t always have to agree with everyone all the time, to agree with each other on certain things. There’s always common ground.”

Wellfleet is exceptionally fortunate in that the largest proposed salt marsh restoration project in New England is taking right place in our backyard with the Herring River Restoration Project. It was diked more than 100 years ago before people realized that salt marshes may contribute to up to 70 percent of our coastal fisheries.

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Along the coast of New England, we have a lot of dikes blocking our salt marshes. And look at what’s happening with our fisheries. Oysters eat phytoplankton and diatoms, and a lot of those are generated by marshes. There are a lot of immediate and secondary positive consequences to restoring a 1,100-acre salt marsh. Potentially, it could benefit all of Cape Cod Bay and all of our New England fisheries. The reason I’m making that bold statement is because fish have tails. They come through the sea. They don’t just stay in one place.

On Cape Cod, the laws of the sea used to rule the land. Now we have more restaurants than fishing boats, and the law of the land is trying to rule the sea. We’re left with populations that aren’t really sure what to do with the water—they want to look at it, but they aren’t really sure how to interact with it. It used to be that you couldn’t get a job at town hall if you couldn’t row a boat. Now, in any town hall, we’re lucky if we can find one person that knows how to row a boat.

Wellfleet embodies all of the traits we associate with New England. We have the architecture. We’ve got the embrace of the ocean and the bay. There is still a traditional fishing community, and there is a new community of people farming the sea. Wellfleet has the largest commercial fishing grants in the state—in a sense, Wellfleet has found a way to transition and maintain traditional fisheries through shellfish farming. Carpenters, fishermen, people in the markets and the restaurants will say hello to each other and wave to other while they’re driving. There’s a rich community fabric in the town, and the town is so big that that’s not impossible.

One of the most intriguing aspects of living on Cape Cod is that it’s very obvious that it’s a limited landform. And it’s very obvious in most areas that it’s also vanishing in a minor way. And it’s very obvious that we’re all here together. It’s easier to have a sense of identity as a Cape Codder and know we’re enjoying this limited resource than it might be elsewhere on the planet because other places seem to have an endless amount of resources and land around them. On the Outer Cape especially, if you drive for 15 minutes, you’re going to find yourself in water, whatever way you go. And both socially and environmentally, that helps reinforce our sense of community identity.

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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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Beach and Dunes at Cahoon’s Hollow, Wellfleet

Beach and Dunes at Cahoon's Hollow, Wellfleet