It’s a Catch-22 situation: people flock to beautiful, natural landscapes to appreciate Mother Nature in all her glory. Yet in the process of doing so, they often damage the very sights that they have come to see, be it with commercial development, the construction of new housing, or just plain old ecological wear-and-tear.
It might seem that destruction is inevitable—certainly, that’s what many Cape Codders were thinking in the middle of the 20th century. The fishing industry was floundering (pun intended), but the local economy was finding another main driver: tourism.
On August 7, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the bill that established the Cape Cod National Seashore. It was the perfect solution: protection of the seashore, while still permitting for its use and enjoyment. This is the story of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
What is the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS)?
Cape Cod is a peninsula off the coast of Massachusetts. Jutting into the Atlantic ocean, the land mass looks a little something like a body builder’s arm, flexing to show off his biceps.
The Outer Cape—or the outer edge of the forearm—consists of nearly 40 miles of uninterrupted oceanfront shore, all of which is included in the CCNS. The area spans across six different towns. The CCNS is run by the National Park Service.
More Than Just a Seashore
Despite its name, the CCNS includes more than just the shore. It totals an area of 43,607 acres, which includes ponds, woods, tidal flats, marshes, and sandy dunes. Half of the town of Wellfleet is encompasses in the CCNS, as is 70% of the town of Truro.
Why Is It Protected?
In the mid 1950’s, the National Park Service became aware that only 6.5% of the eastern coast throughout the United States was state- or federally-owned. The acquisition of land along the shore became a priority, and the Outer Cape area was named a potential candidate.
So, part of the reason for protecting the shore was to increase the government’s bank of coastal land to be used for public enjoyment. It was also being protected from further development, which threatened to ruin the natural beauty of the area. Yet another benefit is the protection of the ecology, including 32 species that are rare or endangered in the state of Massachusetts.
How Is It Protected?
The seashore is protected, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used and enjoyed by travelers enjoying the beauty of Cape Cod– you won’t find any gates or fences keeping the public out. The fact that the shore is protected means that beach-lovers continue to experience the shore in its pristine, natural state.
The CCNS is protected from development: in the early years, the government had to purchase a significant number of privately-owned parcels of land, some already built upon, that lay within the boundaries of the area they wished to include. Nowadays, you won’t see new construction taking place within the CCNS.
You won’t find any restaurants along the shore, and off-road vehicles require a permit to penetrate the area. Camping permits and campfire permits are also required. Recreation is allowed, but it is moderated to prevent overuse and damage to the area.
The Kennedy’s have always loved Cape Cod, and John F. Kennedy was no exception. As a Senator of Massachusetts in the late 1950’s, John F. Kennedy was a supporter of the National Park Service’s plan to protect the Cape Cod shore. In 1961, seven months after his move into the White House, President John F. Kennedy signed the Cape Cod National Seashore bill.
After signing the bill, President Kennedy said, “From personal knowledge, I realize very well how useful this is going to be for the people of the Cape and Massachusetts and New England and the entire United States.” Cape Cod is a fan of the Kennedy’s, too: it hosts the John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis.
Visiting the CCNS
If the idea of secluded beaches, incredible views and rugged coastline entices you, then you’ll need to make a trip to the Cape Cod National Seashore. Since it captures such a large area, there are countless activities to enjoy along the coast.
Hitting the beach is an obvious draw, and you’ll have many choices if you decide to go this route. The water is cold, but there is plenty of sun and even a little surf to be had. The further north you go, the more likely you are to witness a seal or two—or hundreds!
There are also hiking trails and paved bike paths winding throughout the CCNS. Dune hiking and bird watching are perhaps lesser known activities. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, head to Provincetown: it is one of the only areas on the eastern coast where you can see the sun set over the Atlantic ocean.