Aquinnah Circle named Cultural and Historic District

This still shot of Gay Head Lighthouse was pulled from an aerial video John McElroy made using a DJI quadcopter outfitted with a GoPro camera. — Photo by John McElroy

The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the designation of the Aquinnah Circle Cultural and Historic District (ACCHD). The ACCHD is the nation’s first cultural district created in collaboration between a federally recognized tribe and a town, according to a press release.

“We look forward to supporting Aquinnah’s impressive partnership as it preserves and nurtures the district’s cultural heritage,” MCC executive director Anita Walker said.

A cultural district is a compact, walkable area of a community with a concentration of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. MCC’s Cultural Districts Initiative grew out of an economic stimulus bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature in 2010. It is designed to help communities attract artists and cultural enterprises, encourage business and job growth, expand tourism, preserve and reuse historic buildings, enhance property values, and foster local cultural development.

Before there was even a paved road, the Gay Head cliffs were a destination for tourists traveling by land or sea. The ACCHD vision, according to a press release, “is to create a journey-like experience for visitors and satisfy their interests in shopping, local Wampanoag and Island history and culture, and recreation that is infused with the scenic beauty of the Aquinnah coastline.”

The announcement comes as town officials and residents began a visioning/planning effort for the Aquinnah Circle area that will examine overall design and planning aspects at the circle, “particularly in terms of pedestrian and vehicular flows, parking, improvements to the overlook, siting and conditions for the bathrooms, future Land Bank trail connections, utilization of newly acquired properties, and how better to connect all the different elements at the circle without adversely affecting the informal, rustic, and historic nature of the circle area,” according to Derrill Bazzy, one of the leaders of the visioning effort.

The town has teamed up with students from the Conway Graduate School of Landscape Architecture to provide support for this visioning effort. The first public visioning session, sponsored by the Aquinnah planning board,  will be held at 7 pm, on Tuesday, February 2, at town hall. A second visioning session is scheduled on March 2.