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Despite efforts, barriers remain to accessing Massachusetts' beaches

Gloucester police Lieutenant Mike Williams directs traffic at the entrance to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester on July 18, 2020. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Gloucester police Lieutenant Mike Williams directs traffic at the entrance to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester on July 18, 2020. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The weather's getting warmer, which means many of us are thinking about hitting the beach.

But if you don't live on the coast, securing a spot at one of the region's beaches can be tough and expensive.

UMass Boston professor John Duff has been studying the issue, and joined WBUR's Morning Edition host Rupa Shenoy to talk about it.

Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On why people should have access to beaches

"It's always been a right of the public to have at least some basic access to the shoreline. And historically it's been for subsistence or navigation purposes in the 20th and 21st century, if more people were going to the coastline for recreation. So there's a long history of public access. It's just the type of public access. And the reason that people want to go to the coast, that has changed over time.

On the barriers to visiting beaches in Massachusetts and how they differ from other states

"In most states, if you live along the coastline, the property line ends at the high watermark. The Massachusetts original English charter and grants allowed people to actually own the intertidal zone — that is, the land area between the high watermark and the low watermark. New Hampshire private property owners can own to the high tideline, and Rhode Island making their own to the high tide line. Massachusetts and Maine are exceptions to the rule."

On parking costs, resident restrictions and how they're changing

"They are increasing. There are more people these days than there were in the past. The Massachusetts population has doubled or tripled in the last 50 or 60 years. In some places, there is a parking permit that you can purchase to go to, say, a town beach. And in most of those places, a nonresident could buy either a day pass or an annual pass. But they're going to be paying more than the residents of the town are.

And in one recent case, the town of Brewster actually purchased a piece of property that restricted parking to the town residents. And they made an exception for members of the Wampanoag tribe. So the town of Brewster wanted to recognize the existence in the history of the Wampanoags and the area."

On where funding for beach access could come from

"To enhance access, the state legislature passed something called the Community Preservation Act, which allows towns, if they choose to raise funds through a surcharge on property taxes, and those surcharges can be used for acquiring or enhancing open space. And that includes beach space. And a lot of those efforts have been designed to allow more folks of different abilities to actually reach the beach. So a lot of places are using money to put things called mobility mats. Some towns have acquired beach wheelchairs. Some places have restored or built restrooms because with more and more people going to the beach, you certainly need more restroom facilities there."

On how water quality impacts beach access
"I mean, people want to go to the beach, but they want to go to a clean, healthy, safe beach. So I grew up in the Boston area. The water in Boston Harbor was was pretty bad for that reason. If people wanted to go to a clean, safe beach, they actually had to leave the Boston area.

Some of the best beaches in Boston Harbor are the ones on the Boston Harbor Islands. And, you know, they're right off shore. But you've got to take a ferry over there. And those ferries can be costly. A family of four might be looking at close to 100 bucks to get out there. And that's that's pretty pricey."

On what residents who are concerned about beach access can do
"There are a lot of beaches that are public and relatively close by. There are some state run beaches in and around the Boston area. There are some town beaches up and down the coast. So just knowing where they are is quite helpful."

This segment aired on May 5, 2023.


Rupa Shenoy Morning Edition Host
Rupa Shenoy hosts WBUR's Morning Edition.



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