Saturday, August 6, 2011

Happy Birthday CACO

"A man may stand there and put all America behind him." Henry David Thoreau

The Cape Cod National Seashore turns 50 years old on August 7th. That part of the outer Cape holds special memories (For non-New Englanders reading this, everyone refers to Cape Cod as “The Cape” – unless you’re from Hatteras I suppose). Each summer in the late 50s and early 60s my parents would vacation for a week or two at a rather rustic cottage in the Wellfleet area. My wife and I honeymooned there, and we returned to these same cottages with friends years later. The cottages are perched on the high sand dunes facing Europe, distant across the expanse of the cold North Atlantic. The water on that side of the Cape is in fact darn cold and rough – better swimming conditions are found on the south facing beaches or on Cape Cod Bay. But in these rustic cottages, cradled among roving sand dunes, you can hear the rhythm of the pounding surf through the open windows. It does wonders for the quality of your sleep.

The Cape Cod National Seashore stretches over 43,500 acres of dunes, ponds, and scruffy woods covering almost 40 miles of Atlantic shoreline. It is our nation’s first ocean-front park created in controversy in 1961 by the passage of Senate bill S857 and signed into law by Massachusetts’ own John F. Kennedy. Controversial because the park boundaries include land that was already in the hands of Cape towns and private individuals. A capsule summary of those issues can be found here, and for those interested in delving into the blow-by-blow insider’s story, I’ll direct you to The Birth of the Cape Cod National Seashore by Francis P. Burling (Leyden Press).

The National Park Service (NPS) itself has done an admirable job of balancing the park’s recreational, sight-seeing, and conservation needs and public demands. This is a multi-function park well worth visiting. But full disclosure: I’m doubly biased because in addition to enjoying this part of Cape Cod for five decades, I’ve done environmental management work for the NPS nationally, including at Cape Cod National Seashore.

Little bit of trivia: The NPS uses abbreviations for each of its 391 national park units (includes monuments, historic sites, seashores, etc.). If the park name is one word, like Acadia National Park, the abbreviation is the first four letters of the main name – in this case ACAD. If the park’s main name has two or more words, the first two letters of the first two words are used. So Cape Cod National Seashore is shortened to CACO.

Last note. In addition to being associated with writers like Thoreau, the Cape is associated with my favorite naturalist and writer, Henry Beston. Beston wrote about his year of solitary living on the Outer Cape in the 1920s in The Outermost House, a Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. "Nature is a part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery man ceases to be man."

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