August 22, 2008
Worrisome Weekends: The Spit’s Popularity Causing Concern ; Is Partying on Peninsula Harming Wildlife?
By KAITLIN KEANE
SCITUATE - On a quiet Tuesday evening at The Spit, the beaches are deserted and a lone boat bobs at the shoreline.But weekends are different for Scituate's famously secluded peninsula, and Tony Jones clutches evidence of that in both hands: glass bottles, plastic containers and other refuse left behind by weekend revelers.
Jones, a member of the town's conservation commission, is among a group of citizens worried that wildlife is being irreparably harmed because of The Spit's reputation as a secluded party spot.
"People need to understand that this is Mother Nature," said Jones, pointing to the remains of a makeshift fire pit on the beach. The pit is surrounded by empty beer cans.
"How can you fit 300 boats here without coming into conflict with those things that make it a unique place?" Jones said.
Boaters typically use The Spit, which is town-owned land at the convergence of the North and South rivers. A narrow wooden boardwalk extends from Third Cliff through the marsh, but a lack of public parking makes Spit access nearly exclusive to boaters and neighbors.
Because minimal access has made it a difficult place for police to patrol, it is known to many as a place to party, away from the long arm of the law.
But environmental officials worry about how increased human traffic and illegal bonfires, littering and camping will affect piping plovers and least terns, endangered birds that nest near The Spit's dunes.
Birds vs. humans' needs
"Symbolic fencing" made of wooden stakes and twine has been put up along the perimeter of the dunes to keep people off the federally- protected birds' habitat, said Sue MacCallum, director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society's South Shore sanctuaries.
At best, the fencing, which has warning signs on it, is ignored; at worst, it is pulled down to burn in bonfires, MacCallum said. Dogs allowed to run loose plow through the twine into the nesting area, and visitors use the dunes as a substitute for public bathrooms, which don't exist at the beach, she said.
"We haven't been able to manage the birds' needs with the humans' needs well," MacCallum said.
While The Spit should be ideal for piping plovers, the number of plovers living there has fallen: from four pairs of adults with four chicks two years ago to "about half that" this year, MacCallum said.
Town officials have stepped up enforcement in recent years. There have been more police patrols, plus visits from the harbormaster and Audubon volunteers. (Some volunteers say they have been harassed by beach-goers).
Two things need to happen, town officials say: town departments need to come together to develop a plan for monitoring and preserving the beach, and people must police themselves.
"As a selectmen, we want everybody to enjoy it, but we don't want a few bad apples ruining it for the families out there," said Selectmen Chairman Rick Murray, who would like to see several town departments meet each year to discuss management of The Spit.
Conservation Agent Vin Kalishes said he worries that the bad behavior of a small group could induce officials to limit access to the beach. The decision would probably be made by selectmen and conservation commission members.
Jones said limiting access would be an unlikely last step. He would like to see people with a vested interest in the area monitoring each other and making sure everyone obeys the rules: no dogs off leashes, no camping overnight, no leaving trash, no venturing into the dunes.
"Simple things," he said. "People just need to be respectful."
Kaitlin Keane may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published by By KAITLIN KEANE, The Patriot Ledger.
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