TTOR limits cars on Norton Point Beach due to safety concerns

In this file photo taken last year, Norton Point was so crowded over the holiday weekend that it had to be closed. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Chris Kennedy, The Trustees of Reservations Martha’s Vineyard superintendent, said the amount of over-sand vehicles allowed at Norton Point Beach over the Fourth of July holiday weekend was limited to ensure that emergency vehicles could access the beach if they were needed.

The Trustees shut off vehicle access on Friday and Sunday afternoons.

“I won’t say it was a shock; we’ve never had to close access before,” Mr. Kennedy said.

The two-mile long barrier beach connects Katama to Chappaquiddick, and is popular with families and fishermen, and protected shorebirds. The Trustees are responsible for managing the beach, which is accessible by over-sand vehicles with a permit, under a contract with Dukes County. A portion of the beach is currently closed off to vehicles and beachgoers to protect nesting terns, limiting available space.

Mr. Kennedy told The Times that there were “incredible numbers of vehicles” seeking access to Norton Point Beach. He estimated 280 vehicles were on the beach when The Trustees had a conversation with the Edgartown Police, town beach management staff, and the Sheriff’s Department. All parties determined that the beach would not be accessible by emergency personnel if any more vehicles drove onto the beach.

“We closed the property around 1 o’clock [on Friday],” Mr. Kennedy said. “We tried to do a one-off, one-on type of arrangement, but it quickly became apparent that there were far more vehicles trying to get on the beach than were ready to get off. So we closed access until 5 o’clock.” The beach was near capacity, but remained open all day on Saturday, the Fourth of July. The overcast weather may have played a role. On Sunday, access was restricted between noon and 3 pm.

Mr. Kennedy said he is reluctant to issue an official vehicle limit at Norton Point Beach, because the capacity changes from day to day, due to nesting shorebirds and erosion.

“It’s a fluid number at this point,” Mr. Kennedy said.

When cars were turned away, drivers were informed of open beaches in the area. Mr. Kennedy said that although this was unprecedented — the beach has never been closed due to too many vehicles — more beaches are being opened than closed.

“As of this morning we have been able to open about four miles of outside beach on Chappaquiddick,” Mr. Kennedy said on Monday afternoon. “Right now you can drive over the dike bridge and you can access about 95 percent of Leland Beach.” Mr. Kennedy also said that Wasque Beach was recently reopened for vehicles.

Beach goers who were denied access were largely understanding, Mr. Kennedy said.

He said the beach information phone line at 508-627-8390 provides up-to-date information on beach closing.