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The Changing Shape of the Cape & Islands: The Atlantic Shoreline

The Changing Shape of the Cape & Islands: The Atlantic Shoreline, Annual Guide 2018 Cape Cod LIFE |

Graphics adapted from artwork created by Robert Oldale that is displayed at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster.

Dr. Graham Giese, director of the Land and Sea Interaction Program at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, notes that breaches in this area are not exactly new. “Breaches happen and then close—there’s an overall pattern,” he says. The Chatham barrier beach has “been studied way back since the 1800s,” and at one point was the subject of a doctoral dissertation. It is part of a barrier beach system that undergoes cycles of roughly 150 years. “At certain points in history it is one continuous barrier beach, and every 150 years or so it goes back to that configuration.”

Berman says the break at the northern tip of North Beach Island, which allows water to enter Pleasant Bay, is increasing while the break adjacent to Lighthouse Beach is slowly diminishing. Although it is not to that point yet, Berman says there may possibly come a time in the near future where the Town of Chatham will have to decide whether to dredge the closing channel or let it seal and use the wider Pleasant Bay channel to the north.

Approximately eight and a half miles north of the Pleasant Bay channel is the Nauset Spit. The spit is a roughly two-mile-long section of the Nauset Barrier Beach, which, due to longshore currents and large storms, has gradually been stretching its way from Orleans up into Eastham.

One issue that has arisen with the spit is the fact that Orleans and Eastham have different Off Road Vehicle (ORV) laws. For many years beachgoers had been entering the growing spit in Orleans and simply continuing the drive north into Eastham, where driving on the beach has been prohibited south of Coast Guard Beach since 1978, leading to a dispute between the towns.

The entrance to the Nauset Inlet is approximately 280 feet wide. It separates the spit from the southern end of the Cape Cod National Seashore and Coast Guard Beach. This beach, routinely voted one of the best in the country, has seen its shore ravaged by erosion. During the Blizzard of ’78, the 146-car parking lot, which had been built in 1964, was destroyed, along with author Henry Beston’s dune shack, the “Outermost House.”

The A. Thomas Dill Beach Camp, now part of the Swift-Daley House Museum in Eastham, once stood among those same dunes as Beston’s shack. It was in fact the only shack to survive the Blizzard of ’78.  Dill’s son Tommy, a resident of Eastham for all of his 86 years, remembers what Coast Guard Beach used to look like.

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