Nesting birds keep Norton Point off-limits for vehicles

Edgartown just received the green light for its management plan, but new state guidelines regarding shorebird protection are keeping access closed.

Edgartown's management plan for Norton Point Beach has received approval from the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. — MV Times

Edgartown officials announced last week that the town’s management plan for Norton Point Beach has received approval from the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP). 

That approval allows the town to begin sticker sales for over-sand vehicles (OSV) on Norton Point.

However, the beach remains closed due to nesting shorebird activity.

Edgartown was granted stewardship of the roughly two-mile barrier beach in March; the barrier beach connects Edgartown to Chappaquiddick. 

Norton Point, formerly managed by the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) and owned by the county, has been a longtime favorite location for fishing and recreation. It’s also home to protected wildlife, specifically the piping plover.

Management plans for the beach have been enforced in order to ensure habitat protection, while also allowing permitholders OSV access. 

Since officially taking over stewardship of Norton Point Beach on April 1, Edgartown’s parks department and conservation commission have been working to establish a balanced management plan that would both abide by state and federal wildlife protection laws and allow for public access.

It wasn’t until last week that the town received approval.

“We were pleased to receive the approval from NHESP of our plan,” Edgartown conservation agent Jane Varkonda said at the Edgartown Select Board meeting Tuesday. 

However, a condition placed on the management plan by the state includes a requirement of a larger buffer zone of 50 yards around protected shorebirds; specifically nesting and fledging piping plovers.

“The problem is, we’ve got plovers nesting at the entrance of the beach,” she said, adding that the town is looking for clarification from the state program as to why the increased buffer zone is necessary.

Varkonda said that the new buffer zone exceeds what’s typically required by law per the 1993 Wetlands Protection Act. 

Leaders of MV Beachgoers Access Group (MVBAG), a grassroots nonprofit organization focused on maintaining responsible beach access, shared some concerns about the new guidelines at Tuesday’s meeting. 

MVBAG president and Larry’s Tackle Shop owner Peter Sliwkowski raised issues with the new, extensive buffer requirement, calling it an “overreach” of the state’s authority. He said the changes run the risk of preventing future access to the beach, for both recreationalists and fishermen. 

Chris Kennedy, former TTOR regional superintendent and independent consultant to MVBAG, agreed.

Without a naturally occurring blowout to allow access to the beach through the dunes, he said, “Norton Point would not be open for over-sand vehicle access.” 

“What that would mean in the future,” he said, “is you would need 150 feet of room between a plover nest and an OSV trail … on Norton Point, you do not have 150 feet of beach width.” 

He said any plover that nests on the outside beach of Norton Point would effectively close that beach. That closure could last for months. It’d be “highly unusual,” he said.

Kennedy said the new guideline will likely have “far-reaching impacts” that could potentially affect other beaches statewide, or eventually leading to similar protections over other species, restricting access even more. It’s “most concerning,” he said.

According to the new guidelines set by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, “Nesting birds must be provided a minimum 50-yard buffer for all locations where 50 yards is available to fence. If a 50-yard buffer is insufficient to prevent disturbance to state-listed avian species, fencing should be expanded accordingly.”

It states that any deviations to reduce said buffer will need written approval by Mass Wildlife. 

Because the 50-yard buffer prevents OSV permit holders the ability to access the beach at the normal access point, town officials say they’ve been working to find alternative access points. 

NHESP “seems to be on board with it,” Varkonda said. 

She said conservation staff have been in negotiations with the state, and looking into a number of alternative access points. 

Conservation assistant Kara Shemeth said the plan would be to have an additional OSV access through the overwash, but “it will be very dependent on the day-to-day beach conditions, but we think we can get some folks out onto the beach, hopefully soon.”

Town officials say they continue to work with NHESP, the Department of Environmental Protection, Mass Audubon, and other stakeholders in finding a solution that would allow public access and ensure shorebird protection. 


  1. There are some people who dont want anyone to enjoy the environment at all for fear that some species is increasingly endangered. Our taxes pay for these organizations who overreach and we should monitor them or shut them down. They have accountability also.

    • Yes, we must hold these people accountable for not allowing the extinction of the Piping Plover.
      For not allowing our beaches to become totally rutted by 6,000 pound beach buggies.
      By we do you mean the 19.5% of the Island that voted for The Conservative in 2020?
      We the people have been monitoring them and would have shut them down years ago if we the people did not like what they are doing.

    • Oh the poor humans– once in a while they have to suffer the inconvenience
      of not being able to wantonly squash baby birds anytime they want.

      I want my grandchildren to be able to enjoy the environment, and that includes watching the plovers as they dart back and forth along the beach.

  2. This is complete insanity. Martha’s Vineyard already has the most restricted beach access in the country(FYI all beaches are public in Nantucket). Now us regular folk are being held hostage by a few birds nest? This is complete overreach and unnecessary. Thank you Peter and MVBAG for advocating for beach access and common sense. I don’t think enough people know exactly how much impact this will have.

  3. It never ceases to amaze me how worked up people get about not getting to access one section of beach for one portion of the year. It is the overuse of beaches everywhere that has led to the Piping Plovers being endangered. Imagine this kind of uproar if it were Bald Eagles that people wanted to endanger with their recreation. It would seem crazy. But, because it’s the less regal plover somehow they don’t deserve the same respect and adoration.

    • “Overuse of beaches” is quite a statement. What exactly does that mean? Is there an issue with people wanting to use beaches for recreation?

  4. False!!!

    Like the Vineyard, the majority of Nantucket waterfront is privately owned.

    Like the Vineyard OSV permits are issued by The Trustees of the Reservation.

    Driving on beaches does nothing to improve the quality of the beach or it’s flora and fauna.

    Are people the most important thing on a beach?

    • “In distinct contrast to Martha’s Vineyard, virtually all of Nantucket’s 110-mile coastline is free and open to the public. Though the pressure to keep people out is sometimes intense (especially when four-wheel-drivers insist on their right to go anywhere, anytime), islanders are proud that they’ve managed to keep the shoreline in the public domain.”

      OSV to Norton point is controlled by the town of Edgartown.

      • What percentage of Nantucket’s waterfront is publicly owned?
        There is nothing like an international travel guide to determine what is public and what is private.
        Nantucket has far fewer beach buggy yahoos than than our Island, they need less regulation.

        • It’s about beach access. All beach is accessible to the public, no exclusions. What’s % can you say that about MV, Al?

  5. Wanted to provide some facts –
    The number of fledged plover chicks in the entire state of Massachusetts over the past six years has been 4876 chicks. Each year, the number of fledged plover chicks continue exceed the state goals.

    Norton point has produced 27 fledged chicks over the same period which represent 0.44% of the fledged chicks in the state of Massachusetts.

    In summary, the plover population for the state is doing very well.

    Source of above is the annual Plover Census Report from Natural Heritage (NHESP)

    At the same time, Norton Point represents 13% (approximately 2 miles out of 16 miles) of publicly accessible beach on the Vineyard and the only practical access to those beaches are via OSVs. It is critical way for elderly, disable, and small children to enjoy the beach.

    Source of above is from Martha’s Vineyard Commission

    For the latest on beach access please join MV Beachgoers Access Group Facebook Group at

    • There is nothing quite as relaxing as an afternoon at the beach listening to gentle roar of beach buggies.

    • There is no shortage of beaches on the Island with near to the water with paved parking, no need for beach buggies.

      • Albert. It’s obvious you have a severe stigma about vehicles on the beach. How sad for you. Myself and many other islanders, have fished and shellfished forever on these beaches. We enjoyed being on the beach. It was an escape. Myself for over 50 years. It wasn’t us that caused the beach to errode, move and change its course. Right? And yes the poor plover. Well they have rebounded. Because of non usage during nesting season? Maybe to a small percentage. Yet we are still held prisoner by them. I want, as well as 100s of other islanders want the beach opened.

        • I go to the beach to enjoy the flora and fauna.
          Not the roar and smell of bloated Beach Buggies.

    • The phrase that comes to mind when I read this comment is “Lies, more lies and statistics”. Without numbers to compare the number of plover chicks to the stats stated above mean next to nothing. Can the commenter give numbers on plover mortality due to interference from beachgoers? Can they provide historical numbers as a baseline for number of plovers in mass? The plovers in Mass are doing quite well compared to what?

      • Harry, please design the research protocol for determining the mortality rate due to humane use.
        How many dead Piping Plovers are too many?

  6. I love beaches, long walks on quiet beaches.
    I do not like loud obnoxious 6,0000 pound beach buggies that belch fumes driven by inconsiderate beer swilling yahoos.
    You know who the 10% are.

    The beaches are all open, by foot.
    Do you want them open for dune buggies, quads, trikes, and dirt bikes?
    My dirt bike has a rod holder, should I be allowed at Norton point?

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