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The Changing Shape of the Cape & Islands: Lewis Bay, from Hyannis Port to Kalmus Beach & Great Island

The changing shape of the Cape & Islands Lewis Bay: From Hyannis Port to Kalmus Beach & Great Island, May 2017 Cape Cod LIFE |

Photo by Paul Rifkin

To the south and east of Lewis Bay one finds Great Island, a 700-acre swath of land extending westward from Yarmouth. Though technically an island, at low tide one could walk from one land mass to the other without getting wet. It’s not recommended, though; the island is privately owned.

In 1802, a small pox inoculation hospital was established at the island’s southern tip, in the area known today as Point Gammon. In the 1880s, a wealthy ornithologist purchased the island and transformed it into a rare game preserve. In 1914, Rhode Island banker Malcolm G. Chace bought the island—and the property remains in the Chace family’s possession today.

According to Horn, the shoaling in Lewis Bay has affected Great Island, at least in its relationship to Egg Island. Since maps of the area have been drawn, Egg Island, a thin five-acre island off the coast of Great Island has stood on its own in the bay. In 2010, though, shoaling in the area brought the islands together. Due to its location, Egg Island is part of Barnstable, while Great Island is in Yarmouth—and as mentioned, it’s privately owned. Horn says some boaters that have beached their vessels at or near Egg Island in recent years report having been asked to move by folks on Great Island.

Across the bay, Kalmus Beach is a natural barrier that protects the Inner Harbor. Named for Herbert T. Kalmus, who once owned Centerville’s Fernbrook estate and who donated the land to the town of Barnstable, the peninsula extends 1,300 feet eastward into the bay.

When the channel was dredged in 1985, the Army Corps of Engineers used some of the dregs to shore up two acres of Kalmus Beach that had eroded. In 1997-1998, a more expansive “re-nourishment” effort covered 75 percent of Kalmus in dredged sediment. Since then, however, Horn says wind and waves have nibbled away at these efforts, dumping some of the newer sediment into the bay just north of the beach, creating a somewhat unnatural shoal.

Both Braginton-Smith and Horn commented that with Lewis Bay’s importance as a transportation “lifeline” there is only so much that can be done to stem some of the bay’s  traffic-generated shoaling.

“I’m conflicted,” Braginton-Smith says. “One possible solution could be fewer ferry trips into the harbor, but I love watching those ferries come in past Bayview Beach in Yarmouth.”

“Without regular dredging, shoaling will continue,” Horn adds. “We may want to consider restricting speed limits in the harbor. However, shoaling is mostly a natural process. Even if we didn’t have boats coming in and out there would still be shoaling.” Were the main channel not routinely dredged, Horn says many boats and ferries would find it increasingly challenging to access the bay.

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