Aquinnah selectmen question tribe decision to close Lobsterville Beach path

The Aquinnah selectmen plan to meet in public session at 8 am this morning with town counsel Ron Rappaport to discuss the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head’s decision to close off a path that had previously provided walking access to Lobsterville Beach.

The path runs through briars, Rosa Rugusa and poison ivy across the dune that separates the beach from Lobsterville Road and the entrance to Clay Pit Road. Nearby residents have used the path to access the popular beach.

In the past, parking was permitted along the roadway that runs the length of the mile-long beach popular with fishermen and bathers. Parking is now restricted to either end of the beach.

In a telephone call Tuesday, Camille Rose, Aquinnah selectman, said Clay Pit Road once lead to the water and a dock where clay was loaded. She said the path is an ancient way protected in the settlement agreement that led to federal recognition and was at the heart of a zoning battle and a December 2004 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that reaffirmed the settlement agreement.

Bret Stearns, director of the Wampanoag natural resources department, said there are established public paths that provide access to the beach and this path is not one of those. He said heavy summer foot traffic has hampered efforts to reestablish beach grass and vegetation.

Mr. Stearns said earlier in the season he found a resident spraying herbicide along the path. A sign announcing that the path was closed was destroyed, he said. A rope strung across two posts was also cut, he said.

Mr. Stearns said his department recently placed brush at the entrance to the path to discourage use. This should be viewed as a private land issue, he said.

“It is a piece of private property,” Mr. Stearns said. “The tribal lands are not open to public access, with the exception of where it has already been established by agreement. This isn’t being done to punish anyone, it is an area I have tried to restore in the past.”

Mr. Stearns said a resident he would not identify has sent a letter to the tribal council asking that the trail be opened. “That is a decision that tribal council will make,” he said. “My job is to enforce, protect, and restore, and until I am told otherwise that is what I am doing.”