Chappy: An Island way of life


Have you ever been to Chappy? Have you driven on the beach, parked by the water, and shared a day with family and friends, grilling, playing games, laughing, and soaking up the sun?

Have you driven out in August, turned left over the Dyke Bridge, and driven down to a quiet area, set up a few chairs, and spent the evening watching the annual Perseids meteor shower? 

Have you driven around in winter, moving as slowly as possible through the trails, looking for a snowy owl? Have you driven out to Cape Poge Light, parked, and then hiked with a friend until you were tired, thirsty, and thrilled with time well spent?

Have you ever fished Chappy for 35 days straight during the Derby, hoping to land a winner?

Have you ever driven out to the Gut at sunset, sat there without touching a fishing rod and watched the sun set until the sky was black, and then, after an hour or so, realized a million stars were illuminating the sky, big bass were pushing bait up against the beach, water was moving at a rhythmic clip back out to sea, and your world was absolutely perfect? 

Yup, that’s Chappy. That’s the perfection of Island life. That’s a sampling of decades-old stories for so many people on-Island. Now, another way of life on the Island is in peril. We, those of us who love Chappy, need to speak up and act. Now.

If you’re alive and living on Island, you’ve heard about, read about, and/or talked about the bitter legal battle between tThe Trustees of Reservations and a select group of homeowners on Chappaquiddick. This dispute has resulted in closed trails, and limited or no over-sand vehicle (OSV) access to some of our beloved and historic locations, including the Gut and travel north of the Jetties. If you want to review or get caught up on the dispute, click on

What’s important to all Islanders today is the upcoming Edgartown conservation commission meeting on Jan. 24. 

The ConCom has two hearings with the Trustees of Reservations for OSV access, one for Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge and the other for Wasque Reservation and Leland Beach. The conservation commission is not involved in the ongoing lawsuit. It will hear from TTOR and the public to decide if decades of driving on Chappy beaches will be allowed to continue within the confines of their governance — wetlands and conservation.

As an Island community, this vote concerns us all. Over the years, the public has lost more and more access to beaches. Very few beaches are easily handicap-accessible, and large spaces to gather with ample parking are limited at best. Chappy and Norton Point are the only two beaches left where Islanders and visitors can drive OSVs on the beach.

Last week I met with Peter Sliwkowski, Chris Kennedy, and John Piekos, members of the

Martha’s Vineyard Beachgoers Access Group. MVBAG has been working hard since the group

formed in 2021 to find solutions so Islanders, nature lovers, beachgoers, fishermen, and others can drive over-sand vehicles on Chappy, as we’ve been doing for generations.

In short, the founding members of MVBAG first spent months learning what the issues were surrounding Chappy and beach access. While learning is ongoing, MVBAG began researching and collecting data, and working on possible solutions. They hired Chris Kennedy, who had spent 32 years working for TTOR, as an expert advisor. MVBAG also hired the Robinson & Cole Land Practice team.

At the end of August, TTOR released its new “Beach Management Plan” (BMP). MVBAG supports the notice of intent (NOIs) submitted by TTOR to the Edgartown conservation commission, and continues to work with TTOR to modify and improve the BMP.

“MVBAG wants to maximize reasonable access while focusing on conservation,” said Sliwkowski, president of MVBAG, full-time Chappy resident, and co-owner of Larry’s Tackle Shop with his wife Melissa. “We want to have thoughtful, educated conversations. We need to be demanding of TTOR, but not condemning. The condemnation has to stop.”

In preparation for the upcoming ConCom meeting, MVBAG submitted three reports to the commission. Chris Kennedy authored “Ensuring Practical Bayside OSV Access at Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge.” MVBAG and the Robinson & Cole Land Practice team outlined “Restoring Historical Public OSV Access on Cape Pogue Refuge.”

I found the “Highlights of Analysis with TTOR’s ‘Not to Exceed 300 OSVs’ Policy” most interesting. The Trustees have proposed a reasonable 300-vehicle limit as part of their “Beach Management Plan.” MVBAG researched and created an analysis that compares the proposed policy with six other OSV-accessible properties in the state.

The data show that TTOR Chappy ranked No. 1 with respect to amount of space for each OSV, and ranked No. 2 for the number of OSVs per staff member. Based on the average of other properties in the state, TTOR Chappy had 2.54 times more space per OSV, 48.1 percent more staff per OSV, and 15.47 percent less staff per mile of beach.

One additional fact that I found fascinating was the decrease in OSV passes sold in recent years. TTOR sold 1,548 OSV passes in 2022, and 1,531 OSV passes in 2023. Those numbers are much lower than 1,705 passes sold in 1986, than 1,992 OSV passes sold in 1987, or than 2,061 OSV passes sold in 1988.


Community action steps

We can’t afford to remain silent. Historic beach access is a way of life on Martha’s Vineyard. With so much at stake, it’s time for Islanders to rally and have our collective voices heard.

Here’s what we can do now: The MVBAG leadership team has created a beach access questionnaire, consisting of questions related to OSV access to properties on Chappy managed by the Trustees of Reservations. All responses will remain anonymous, and only an aggregate report will be shared. 

Join MVBAG. Write a letter to the Edgartown conservation commission. Your ability to drive on one of the most magical places depends on your exercising your voice. Don’t be silent.

“We urge people, if you have an opinion or an idea, write to the conservation commission. You can write online or by mail. All the commissioners are sent copies of every letter,” said Chris Kennedy.

Letters need to be sent to the ConCom before Ja. 19. You can email your letter to, or mail it to Town of Edgartown, Edgartown Conservation Commission, P.O. Box 5158, Edgartown, MA 02539.

Most important for all of us who love visiting Chappy: Attend the Jan, 24 Edgartown conservation committee Zoom meeting.

Chris Kennedy put it simply, “For beach users, this is their opportunity to have their voice heard and counted. You don’t want to wake up the day after and have no beach access. “Let the moderator know you have a question or comment,” he added.

Mark your calendars: January 24 at 4:00 pm. 

I hope to see you on the beach and at the Con Com meeting on January 24th .


  1. These gorgeous public beaches stretch roughly 8 miles and represent 35% of the total public beach access on the Island. Unfortunately there are only 20 public parking spots and no public transportation options. Therefore the ONLY way to access these public beaches is by OSV. It is not a matter of preference or indolence. This is the simple reason that responsible OSV access has successfully existed for decades. Now a small number of Cape Poge landowners seek to abolish OSV access to the public. Naturally, their scheme allows THEM to enjoy unfettered access! They pursue this act of egregious entitlement – this perpetration of beach theft – to advance their goal of enshrining a private sanctuary for their exclusive use and enjoyment. Let’s see – 20 homeowners could be allocated 35% of the Islands’ total public beach. How could this gigantic wealth transfer possibly transpire in a democracy?

    • Rich,

      Holy smokes what a well thought out and articulate comment. I’m not embarrassed to say that for many years I have been posting about this very issue but could never quit find the words as well as you have. Thank you!

  2. This article demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the CONSERVATION Commission. Contrary to popular belief, the commission’s sole reason for existing is to administer and enforce the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act by conserving and/or preserving rare or unique aspects of the environment. As such, none of our OPINIONS matter. Sadly, if OSV access is restricted or eliminated it will be entirely because of TTOR’s shortcomings.

    As with any other matter before the Commission, their decision must be based on facts and data supported by research and comprehensive studies analyzing the impacts of use on this unique environment (these are but a few of the hurdles one must overcome when trying to allow hundreds people and vehicles to access a fragile barrier beach that serves as a state and federally protected habitat to endangered species . . . so annoying, I know). The last time TTOR conducted such a study on Cape Poge was in the early 90s. While I would love believe that nearly three decades of OSV use hasn’t caused any negative impacts on CP, it is TTOR’s obligation as the steward of these lands to ensure as much.

    Put another way, if the public’s use is inconsistent with conservation/preservation, then public use must yield. That is not a matter of opinion. If you don’t do the research, then you can’t get the data. If you ain’t got the data, then you don’t know the extent to which the use has harmed the resource.

    To characterize this as a dispute between TTOR “and a select group of homeowners . . .” is misleading at best, since that “select group of homeowners” literally GIFTED much of these lands to TTOR for the dual purpose of conservation AND ENSURING OPEN ACCESS FOR PUBLIC USE AND ENJOYMENT. Same home owners. Same commitment to conservation and public access. What has changed is TTOR’s commitment to its mission.

    Rallying behind TTOR in front of this Commission would be like showing up before the Cannabis Control Commission to support the issuance of a license to a business owner who failed the mandatory background check (in both scenarios, if the respective commission follows the law as well as its mandate, then the application must be denied). I think it is improper and unfair to members of the Conservation Commission to call on the public to urge the Commission to act outside of its authority.

    For years TTOR has been collecting OSV permit fees with full knowledge of the fact that they could be shut down at any time for decades of non-compliance. Pause and think about that: they took your money without taking any steps to ensure you would actually be able to access the beaches. Why? Because its expensive. If it wasn’t, then surely TTOR would have faced numerous competitors in their bids for the seemingly lucrative Norton Beach contracts since 2006 (until they completely washed their hands of Norton last year).

    Everyone agrees the public should have access. If that ever changes, the blame can only be placed upon TTOR.

  3. Seena
    Nobody disputes ConCom’s role and duty. But the only reason this is in front of ConCom is because a select group of Cape Poge landowners litigious inclinations. Do you want the public to believe the landowners have pursued this action with altruistic intentions? I have a better “rallying” analogy for Islanders to contemplate. Rallying behind the Cape Poge landowners would be like showing up before the FAA to support the closure of an public airport that airport abutters seek to shutter, thus causing economic disaster, while still allowing the abutters to land their private jets there.

    • Rich,

      I definitely agree with you about at least one thing: the only reason this is in front of the Conservation Commission is because of TTOR’s neighbors. It is not, however, “a select group.”

      There are 37 parcels of land on CP north of the Dike Bridge. TTOR holds title to 18 of those parcels. The other 19 parcels are held by the Town of Edgartown (1), the US Government (2), two separate LLCs (each holding title to 1 parcel), and six separate families (holding title to 14 parcels). To date, I am aware of only one lawsuit against TTOR and it only involves one of the six families. That family has been one of TTOR’s neighbors for over 20 years. For at least half of that time, that family (as well as all of the other families with dwellings on CP) have been urging TTOR to reign in their increasingly unregulated guests and invest money into this resource that has proved to be a very lucrative asset for TTOR.

      Generally, I do not assume people have altruistic intentions. The more I learn about this dispute, however, the more surprised I am by how reasonable the landowners have been. Two of the families on CP gifted parcels (2 parcels by 1 family and 1 parcel by the other, for a total of approximately 12 acres) to TTOR in the 80s (both families still own other parcels). The family that gifted two parcels put conservation restrictions on those parcels. Importantly, the restrictive language in those two deeds states that the land is to be held “for the benefit, education, and enjoyment of the public but only to the extent that any use by the public is consistent with the preservation of the natural resources . . . .” The intent here is clear: these beaches must be enjoyed by the public, but not to the detriment of the resource.

      My main point is that we should not be blaming the landowners for what is going on in the Conservation Commission. Everyone who purports to care about this resource should be thanking them. The landowners want the public out there. I have heard a ton of anecdotal stories from upset TTOR sticker-holders about the multi-generational use and enjoyment of these beaches. Five of the six families on CP have been there since at least the 80s, but some even earlier than that (even the newest family has been there for nearly 24 years). They are part of your stories. If you have ever been to the Gut or the Elbow, then you have literally walked or driven over their land. They have been there all along and they have never dreamed of taking that experience from anyone (because believe it or not, the beachgoers and the culture on CP are one of the primary reasons they enjoy owning homes out there to begin with). If TTOR was the organization it used to be, then they would be untouchable. The Commission is powerless against TTOR if they are in compliance with the relevant laws and regulations. It is TTOR’s own failures that have left them so exposed.

      I simply cannot understand why people want to pressure the Conservation Commission to basically not do its job, or why people want to blame the landowners when it is so devastatingly clear that TTOR is to blame for their regulatory woes. They have been operating the only business on the island, without authorization, and in violation of applicable laws/regulations. They are operating in a manner that is wholly inconsistent with the purpose of their existence. Yet, the masses on readying their pitchforks and placing all of the blame on a small group of people that zero influence of TTOR’s operations. An objective look at the historical timeline tells me the landowners just don’t seem to possess the “litigious inclinations” you have ascribed to them.

      Bill’s comment is a fantastic historical account of life on CP. Most notably, he is correct about the fact that the land is private. The TTOR parcels are not public land in the truest sense of the phrase. While those parcels are held for the benefit of the public, access will and must be restricted if it is inconsistent with TTOR’s primary mission: preservation and conservation. The common right of way over the privately held, non-TTOR parcels is the only reason TTOR sticker-holders can get from the lighthouse to the Gut. This is why your FAA analogy falls short. The reason for my analogy was simply to point out that the opinions of beachgoers, sentiments about historical OSV use and the like are completely irrelevant to the issues before the Commission. Those efforts may be better expended if they were directed at TTOR (and should have been done about 2-3 years ago in order to be successful). Also, your comment had not been posted when I started writing mine (likely still awaiting approval by moderators) so please know that it was not meant as a response to yours, as I had not seen it until after submitting mine.

      • Hi Seena
        I appreciate your willingness to engage in constructive and civil discourse on this topic. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the Cape Poge landowners who made the incredibly generous donations to establish this pristine refuge.
        My “litigious intentions” comment was a reference to the unsuccessful lawsuit brought by select Cape Poge landowners to block OSV access on Cape Poge. This motion was denied by Judge Speicher of The Massachusetts Land Court in May 2022.
        I suppose what you see as “the masses are readying their pitchforks”, I see as “the year-round, hard working residents are readying their tackle boxes”. I believe my vision is both less threatening and a whole lot closer to the truth.

  4. Actually the beach access is available only on a very small restricted area. Just not possible to accommodate the beach access demand Does anyone want yo to see 100 parking spaces ?? While the owner neighbors concerns a tad extreme not everyone can have unlimited access the nenew MV reality

  5. I was born on Martha’s Vineyard and am a native of the island. I am sixty-eight years old and I have been driving the Chappy beaches for over fifty-five years, learning to drive like most island kids did, as soon as my feet reached the pedals.

    This is before the Conservation Commission because regular review and re-application is required by law. Not because of homeowners. Last year it was made very clear that TTOR had been mismanaging the property and failing to preserve and protect the resource. It came to light that for decades TTOR had failed to comply with orders of the Edgartown Conservation Commission (Con Comm). It came to light that TTOR had failed to comply with the Wetlands Protection bylaws. It came to light that TTOR had failed time and time again to do what it was supposed to do, and Con Comm had failed to do anything about it. Under extraordinary public pressure, Con Comm decided to give TTOR another shot in May, and in doing so, issued several orders of conditions. Appeals weren’t filed at that time because there was hope that TTOR would finally start prioritizing this precious place. There was also hope if TTOR couldn’t pull it off, Con Comm would know how to enforce the violations to be sure the resource was protected. TTOR has once again failed to comply. And Con Comm has once again failed to enforce non-compliance. TTOR are in violation of the law and everyone knows it and it is very troubling that no one seems to care. The laws that TTOR are violating are conservation laws. The conservation commission is not the Chamber of Commerce. It is not Con Comm’s job “get people to the beaches” at all costs like that idiot mayor in the movie Jaws. This isn’t Amity Island. This is real.

    The bottom line is the beaches are gone. The ability to do what has always been done no longer exists. When I was a kid Gerry Jeffers taught me how to drive on the sand and he was the best teacher there ever was. I remember I used to be able to drive from Gay Head all the way to the gut. I can’t do that anymore. I remember that Wasque used to be the only access by OSV to the beaches, and now that access is gone. The land the lighthouse used to sit on is gone. The land the Schifter house used to sit on is gone. The land the Wacks house used to sit on is gone. The land the Ross house used to sit on is gone. The land the Chimneys used to sit on is gone. The Chimneys themselves lie in rubble on what’s left of the beach that people used to be able to comfortably drive on. That land is almost gone, and I wouldn’t drive there now. As of last year you couldn’t drive the bayside anymore unless it was dead low. The berm on the ocean side is as rough as I’ve ever seen it and there is not enough room out there for people to park and drive without damaging the dunes. I’ve heard talk of “practical” access – how is it practical to invite the pubic onto private land for recreational OSV use on a road to nowhere to damage and destroy the little beach we have left? Whatever happened to common sense?

    I’ve heard talk of historical access. I historically used to duck hunt in what is now people’s backyards. I can’t do that anymore. Over the years I have had permission from landowners to be places on this island and over the years permissions have changed or been taken away by new owners. The land is not public, it is private and that’s the way it goes on private land. I remember when I used to be able to drive out at Edgartown Great Pond, I can’t do that anymore. Recreational OSV access out at Cape Pogue has always been permissive, it has never been anyone’s right. People would do well to remember that.

    I’ve heard talk that vehicles have been allowed on the beaches since 1959. It’s actually been longer than that. The first so-called OSVs out at Cape Pogue came after World War II and they were the Willys-Overland. And less than a handful of people had them. I encourage each of you to look at a Steamship Authority parking lot photo from the 50s and 60s and tell me how many OSVs you see. Now look at that parking lot waiting for a boat today. The number of people with the ability to drive on the beaches has increased dramatically, while the available area to drive has been disappearing. We are now at a cross-roads. The beaches can no longer sustain unbridled and unregulated recreational OSV use.

    It is time for Con Comm and the Town of Edgartown to do the right thing and protect what little is left of this place. It is time for people who claim to care about the beach or call it their “church” to finally care about it too by making a sacrifice and recognizing and accepting that the good old days of recreational OSV use on these beaches are over. Not unlike the way recreational fishing for stripers in the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Blue Fish Derby is over. The land needs to be protected, just as the striped bass need to be protected.
    Times. Have. Changed. I know how hard that is because I have lost so much of what I know this island to have been over the years. I know everyone deciding these issues has too. We all remember how things used to be. We all know they aren’t that way anymore. The island has changed, the ways it is being used have changed, and the little bit of it that is left needs to be protected.

  6. Bill
    It sounds like you are approaching this with a genuine concern for the precious resource and you are asking all parties to make the commitment to suspend OSV access on Chappy. However, I am concerned about the economic impact to the landowners on Cape Poge. Without OSV access to their property, will they be compensated by the town of Edgartown for this act of sacrifice?

Comments are closed.