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The Changing Shape of Popponesset Beach, Mashpee

Popponesset spit 004-1

Cape photographer Paul Andrews took this photo of the spit in June of 1988.

McManus has another idea that might offer more enduring success, though it’s unlikely to ever be realized. “The best possible solution,” he says, “is to dissuade development in close proximity to areas of eroding coastal banks. Unfortunately, these areas are the most coveted real estate and much of it has already been built out. Dealing with coastal erosion requires constant vigilance and regular beach nourishment. However, given a large enough storm, no amount of nourishment can protect a given area from storm surges and subsequent damage.”

Oleksak says ongoing efforts have shown progress. “Continuing to build the dune and the slope of the beach leading up to it will help by preventing overwashes,” he says, referring to the phenomenon where elevated tides and powerful waves literally wash over a beach or spit, eroding the sand—and then dumping it inland. This scenario has notably taken place in recent years at Truro’s Ballston Beach.

“Our work has turned the tide,” Oleksak says, “with more work planned. The serious storms in January 2016 did not overwash the spit.” Save Popponesset Bay planned to add 7,000 cubic yards of sand to the spit in February, with more scheduled to arrive in March following the annual dredging of the outer channel.

Together, the Town of Mashpee and Save Popponesset Bay are doing what they can to help the spit survive the area’s tumultuous weather, with the goal of protecting a natural shorebird habitat—and the many human residents who live behind it.

He is celebrating the release of his second book: In My Footsteps: A Traveler’s Guide to Martha’s Vineyard, Schiffer Publishing (2016).

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