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The Changing Shape of the Cape & Islands: Cape Poge and North Neck, Martha’s Vineyard

Editor’s note: This is the 15th in a series of articles covering the region’s dramatically changing coastline. Click here to see all of the articles.

Cape Poge North Neck Martha’s Vineyard

In this eastward-looking aerial photo of Chappaquiddick on Martha’s Vineyard, one can see Cape Poge Bay and the barrier beach known as “the elbow,” which winds around to protect it. In stark white, Cape Poge Lighthouse can be seen at the center of the image, and at bottom right, North Neck juts into the bay. Photo by Paul Rifkin

Visitors to the southeast of Martha’s Vineyard will find Chappaquiddick, a scenic swath of land that’s home to hundreds of acres of wildlife preserve, a few homes and a spectacular public garden. Chappaquiddick is also well known for sometimes being a peninsula, sometimes an island. Currently, “Chappy” is connected to the rest of the Vineyard by Norton Point Beach, which stretches from Katama Beach to Wasque Point.

On the north of Chappaquiddick, The Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge consists of 516 acres of marsh, dune, tidal ponds and barrier beach. It’s also home to the Cape Poge Lighthouse. First built on Cape Poge’s northeastern tip in 1801, the light has been rebuilt a few times and moved back from the shore on several other occasions, most recently in 1987. This last move brought the light 500 feet inland, but in the 30 years that have passed since then, that distance has been whittled down to 425 feet.

In addition to the lighthouse, Cape Poge also has nine residences, many of which were built as summer cottages but have since been winterized. Though these homes are not in any immediate danger, Chris Kennedy, the Martha’s Vineyard superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations, says erosion rates vary all over Cape Poge. “It depends on where you look,” Kennedy says. “The northeast tip has been undergoing constant changes for more than 200 years. Then, along the elbow, there has been almost nothing in terms of erosion.” Kennedy says that with an average erosion rate of nearly two feet per year over the past two centuries, the site of the lighthouse’s original 1801 foundation is likely 400 feet off shore today.

The elbow is a barrier beach that curls southwest from Cape Poge for about a mile and a half, almost all the way to North Neck, creating a protective barrier around almost all of Cape Poge Bay to the east. Boaters can enter the bay from Nantucket Sound, in the west, via Cape Poge Gut, a channel just north of North Neck.

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