Trustees release new beach plan

“Significant changes” were made to OSV access, dog restrictions.

The Trustees of Reservations worked collaboratively with local stakeholders to draft the new beach management plan. —Abigail Rosen


The Trustees of Reservations released a new draft beach management plan for its Chappaquiddick beaches this week, which include several changes to last year’s rebuked plan.

The nonprofit organization, charged with the stewardship of roughly 10 miles of barrier beach on Chappaquiddick, which includes Leland Beach, Wasque Reservation, and the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, has in recent years struggled with finding the right balance between environmental and wildlife conservation and public beach access for recreation.

The newly proposed plan serves as a replacement for last year’s beach management policies, which were met with significant pushback from the Island community.

Perhaps one of the most notable opposers of that plan was former Trustees regional superintendent Chris Kennedy, who had criticized the conservation organization for releasing what he called “a document so blatantly anti-community, anti-history, and without a care in the world for the resource balance it claims to seek.” 

Under pressure from stakeholders like Kennedy and Island beach access supporters, the Trustees ultimately opted to abandon its plan and start from scratch

After nearly a year working with local stakeholders to form a more palatable proposal, the nonprofit says “we are confident that we have produced a Beach Management Plan that contains significant input and solutions from stakeholders and the broader public and that this plan strikes the right balance between recreation, conservation, and resiliency.” 

The new draft, which has been submitted to the Edgartown Conservation Commission for approval, consists of a number of significant changes to over-sand vehicle (OSV) access and dog restrictions on Vineyard beaches — critical issues that had been highlighted by community members and stakeholder groups previously.

Pursuant to the new plan, Trustees-owned Chappy beaches would be less prohibitive of OSVs; by using a more adaptive management practice, the nonprofit says beach access will be dictated by current conditions to help inform which trails are open and accessible. 

OSV access to the Cape Poge Lighthouse, the Gut, and along the bayside of the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge will be available, contingent on current beach conditions.

While the changes are welcome, some say the Trustees have yet to fully grasp the significance of reasonable access to public beaches.

In a recent call with The Times, Kennedy, who now serves as a board member for the nonprofit M.V. Beachgoers Access Group, said though he applauds the Trustees for giving local stakeholders the opportunity to provide input on beach management on Chappy, there’s more to be done.

“This beach management plan was developed in much more of a cooperative spirit,” Kennedy said, saying it is a “far cry” from last year’s controversial policies. “The previous plan was done in a vacuum,” he said.

Still, Kennedy says he still sees some “glaring issues” with the new plan that could preclude reasonable public use and enjoyment of Chappy beaches — which cuts counter to the Trustees mission statement. 

Specifically, Kennedy said that the updated shorebird protection policies found in the beach plan are an overreach — unnecessary, considering the significant population increase in species like the piping plover over the last few decades. 

A new policy within the plan, which calls for a buffer prohibiting OSVs within 50 yards of nesting shorebirds is “a clear example of ecological overreach,” Kennedy said, noting that existing shorebird protection guidelines do not include such a restriction.

Chappy beaches don’t have 150 feet on either side of a nest to spare, Kennedy explained. Hence, the buffer will “effectively eliminate OSV access to the front beach from early April to mid-August every summer thereafter.”

“That level of public access exclusion is excessive and unnecessary,” he said. 

The region’s piping plover population rise was empowered by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife 1993 shorebird protection guidelines on OSVs, which were developed to assist Massachusetts beach managers and property owners avoid potential violations of the Endangered Species Act regulations. 

Since the adoption of the 1993 guidelines — which were controversial at the time — Kennedy estimates that the number of nesting pairs of plovers increased from around 120 to over 1,000 as of last year.

“The guidelines are working,” he said.

While Kennedy and other proponents of responsible beach access say that The Trustees — and the state — still have a ways to go when it comes to balancing conservation with public access, the new approach of welcoming public discourse on the issue is a good sign. 

With increased community involvement, the reinforcement of historic OSV access to areas of Chappy are “really positive notes,” Kennedy said. “Kudos to The Trustees.”


What does the beach management plan look like?

The new plan calls for a required viewing of an OSV training video for permit holders, vehicle operators to have necessary safety equipment (a jack, base board for jack, shovel, tow rope, full size spare, and tire pressure gauge) at all times when on the beach. The equipment is to be inspected by staff. 

There will be a two-strike warning or permit revocation for violations of the new OSV regulations, which are outlined in pages 48-52 of the management plan.

OSV capacity will be determined by “existing conditions, ecological impacts and visitor experience,” but will not exceed 300 vehicles for Cape Poge and Leland.

The plan would allow for dogs on Leland Beach year-round — and on all other beaches from Oct. 1 to March 31 — as long as the dog is leashed.

The Trustees also say that it’ll continue to abide by the 1993 Guidelines for beach management regarding listed shorebird protection. For the protection of non-listed species, the nonprofit says it will “continue to seek out creative ways to provide greater OSV access.” 

“There are many different perspectives within the community, as well as on the working group,” Trustees director for the Island, Darci Schofield said in Wednesday’s press release. “While we are not able to honor every desired outcome, we believe we are releasing a plan that addresses much of what the community desires alongside our shared conservation goals, and it honors the tradition of beach access that is important to Island residents and visitors.” 

“The plan provides for practical access, protects endangered wildlife and habitat, and builds resiliency to climate impacts,” Schofield said. “Our goal has been to ensure that the natural beauty of these beaches can be experienced by everyone today as well as by future generations.” 

The Trustees will be seeking an order of conditions from the Edgartown Conservation Commission, which will hold a public review process for the management plan. The Trustees encourage interested parties to attend the public meetings to express support for OSV access and the protection of natural resources. 


The full management plan is available at




  1. Leashed dogs are not a nuisance on Wasque. Have been there many times and have seen many well behaved dogs posing no threat to any living creature.

    • A dog that will chase goats will kill piping plovers, for the shear joy of killing.
      Your anecdotal research is not a basis for policy.
      Have you ever received a serious dog bite?

Comments are closed.