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Preserving the Cape Cod Character

Cape Cod National Seashore

The Cape Cod National Seashore, seen here, gets an estimated 4,000,000 visitors per year. Photo by Josh Shortsleeve

On August 7, 1961, just several months later, President John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law. Jessica Sylver, the president and CEO of the Hyannis Area Chamber of Commerce, which owns the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, notes the late president’s ties to the Cape. “It’s because President Kennedy was here in Hyannis, and because of his love for the area, that he signed the legislation to preserve it,” she says.

But after the area became a national park, there was still much work to be done to ensure its success and appreciation. Rangers had to start from scratch by finding ways to draw in visitors while also guaranteeing the land remained protected. Spang was hired in 1963 as a naturalist ranger for the new park and spent part of his first year crawling on hands and knees through scrub oak in the Atlantic cedar swamp in South Wellfleet, cutting a trail that is now a favorite hiking destination. He produced slide shows and introduced people, from Chatham to Provincetown, to the Seashore.

Spang and Price believe the Cape Cod National Seashore has stayed true to its original vision. It continues to adapt to modern changes in recreation, with improved paths for the increasing number of bicyclists and adaptive equipment to allow those with mobility impairments to enjoy Coast Guard beach in Eastham and Herring Cove beach in Provincetown. Yet despite legislation to protect the seashore, it still faces a great deal of challenges. These problems stem from a variety of reasons including rising sea levels that erode the shoreline an average of three feet a year, local zoning guidelines that allow vehicles on endangered-species habitats, or hikes on fragile dunes; traffic congestion that threatens tranquility, and demographic changes that make the area increasingly unaffordable for families that work in the park.

Still, the seashore and its pristine landscapes remain a favorite spot for those who wish to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. “The Cape, to me, has had almost a spiritual connection,” Price says. “I’m certainly thankful they fought the fight to preserve it. Our job is to tee up for the next 50 years. In the National Parks, we’re in the forever business.”

Susan Spencer is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Brewster and Whitinsville, Masschusetts. She contributes frequently to Cape Cod Life Publications.

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