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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 |

The Chatham Break and Monomoy Island. Photo by Paul Rifkin

When the family dune shack was built, “It was built on the back side of the sand dunes that stood as much as 50 feet tall,” Dill says. “It was on the marsh side of the dunes, not the ocean side. When I returned from Florida after the winter, mine was the only place still standing while eight or nine others were all washed away. I used it for another couple of years before I donated it to the Eastham Historical Society and it was moved before it fell into the ocean.”

Dill, who lives in a house overlooking the Nauset Inlet, says that when he first moved into the house in 1958, the dunes were so high that one could not even see the ocean.

“You wouldn’t even have recognized Coast Guard Beach then,” Dill says. “The whole place has changed.”

Greg Berman sheds light on why such changes take place on the east-facing Cape Cod shoreline. “The Atlantic shore is much more exposed,” Berman explains. “It does not have the protection of Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound. Therefore much of the Atlantic coast is eroding at an approximate long-term rate of three feet per year where Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound erode at a rate closer to one foot per year.”

Just above Coast Guard Beach is neighboring Nauset Light Beach; both are within the Cape Cod National Seashore. To cope with the constant barrage of the sea, in the fall of 2017 the park service removed the Nauset Light Beach restroom and changing building, septic tank, and stairway to the beach.

The decision to remove the stairway was a financial one, according to Karst Hoogeboom, chief of facilities and maintenance for the Cape Cod National Seashore. He explains that the stairway, a massive structure, had to be replaced an average of every three years, at a cost of around $130,000. The Seashore looked into alternatives and decided to replace the stairway with an engineered pathway just south of where the stairway once stood. The bathhouse will be temporarily replaced by trailers while the Seashore formulates plans for a new bathhouse closer to the road.

Berman says creation of the National Seashore minimized coastal damage. “Property damage doesn’t happen as much, since the area is mostly undeveloped,” he explains.  “There is not as much of the man versus nature aspect on the ocean side of Eastham and Wellfleet due to it being National Seashore land, whereas the bay side is more heavily developed.”

In the Town of Truro, the dune system at Ballston Beach has been severely damaged due to overwashes. During a blizzard in February 2013, the storm surge at high tide broke through the dunes, pushing water from the ocean all the way back to the Upper Pamet River Valley more than 900 feet from the shore. In an attempt to repair the damage, which included further erosion of the dune and flooding in the beach’s parking lot, the Truro Department of Public Works trucked in 4,000 cubic yards of sand from Head of the Meadow, another beach in town. On January 27, 2015, Winter Storm Juno tore through the repaired dunes. The high tides, combined with strong winds, caused an overwash that once again flowed into the Upper Pamet River Valley, flooding the beach parking lot and pushing sand into the marsh. At 205 feet, this opening in the dune was even wider than that of 2013.

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