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Guest post by artist Kathryn Kleekamp: A Fragile Cape Cod

I am delighted to provide readers an opportunity to savor the reflections and significant talent of Kathryn Kleekamp, a friend and artist whose work I greatly admire and whose values I respect. It is one thing to theoretically deplore the effect of coastal erosion, it is quite another to stand in its presence as a witness, as Kathy has done. I thank her for sharing.

Ray Wells Dune Shack - Province Lands, Truro, MA

A Fragile Cape Cod

This time of year most of us enjoy fond thoughts of friendship and family. We treasure those all-too-brief moments when we get together to celebrate with loved ones, especially those who live far away. We’re particularly thoughtful of precious family members who may no longer be with us.

A recent early winter trip to the outer Cape’s Province Lands with a group of friends led to similar feelings. Instead of lamenting the loss of an individual however, I contemplated the loss of our beautiful coastline.

Dune Erosion at Ballston Beach

I rather imagine others who’ve witnessed this area’s erosion from storm winds and strong currents have similar thoughts. For a significant number of people, their simple shingled cottage which provided a favorite family gathering place with barbeques on the porch and a beach where countless sunsets were admired, are now only memories.

When the nor’easter Juno, with 70 mile-an-hour winds, hit Cape Cod in January of 2015, the storm surge swallowed beaches and dunes from Sandwich to Truro. At Ballston Beach in Truro, the storm washed away dunes that had been rebuilt just the year before. High tides and strong winds created an overwash causing water and sand to flow into the Upper Pamet River Valley covering the marsh and beach parking lot. The resulting breach in the dune was approximately two hundred feet wide.

In the town of Sandwich where I live, Sandy Neck Beach is considered one of the “hotspots’ of erosion on the Cape. Damage from Juno resulted in more than a dozen beachfront homes being condemned. Wind-driven water dumped tons of sand that blocked Mill Creek, an important shellfish area and herring run connecting to Cape Cod Bay. Water intrusion also flooded sections of inland historic Route 6A, the Old King’s Highway.

Perhaps one of the most iconic Cape Cod cottages claimed by the sea was Henry Beston’s Fo’c’sle, Initially built on the top of a 20-foot dune overlooking the Great Beach in Nauset it succumbed to a winter storm in 1978 after having been moved inland twice. Even the marker where the house last stood is now underwater.

These are just a few dramatic examples of Cape Cod’s diminishing shoreline. Cape Cod towns make every reasonable attempt to rebuild beaches after major storms, but it’s only a matter of time before natural influences again challenge our best efforts. Like the holiday gathering that is cherished for its brief moments of family togetherness, we should be mindful of the temporary nature of a shoreline constantly influenced by the dynamics of Nature’s forces. Cherish it and protect it.

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