Cape Lawmakers Push for Better Public Beach Access

There are limited public beaches in Massachusetts, and the ones that are public often have parking restrictions for non-residents

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With the official start of summer just weeks away, people are eager to hit the beach, but not many beaches in Massachusetts are easily accessible to the public.

From local rules about parking to a state law that keeps some beaches private, there are a number of barriers to putting your toes in the sand. 

"I think the biggest part of it is people that live on the beach don’t want the company," Jim Smith of Plymouth said. 

Smith calls himself a beach access activist after he got tired of being hassled at so many private beaches in Plymouth. 

"I’ve had people call the police, threaten to arrest me and threaten to tow me," Smith said. 

Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states that allows beachfront property owners to claim ownership all the way down to the low tide line. The Colonial-era law states they do have to allow fishing, fowling and navigation. Two lawmakers on Cape Cod want to change the law to add recreation.

“What we’re trying to do is update the law and the intent of the Colonial ordinance to 2022,” Senator Julian Cyr, D-Truro, said

Cyr said he knows it will be an uphill battle with beachfront property owners to get the bill out of committee, but he thinks the access benefit would be worth it. 

"I really think the beach is something we should be able to access. Our laws have intended for there to be access so that’s why we’re trying to make this change," Cyr said. 

At the private Priscilla Beach in Plymouth, residents fear opening it up to the public would bring a wave of problems. 

"People find cars parked in their driveway and trash in their driveway. Keeping it private keeps the crowds down and without crowds, everyone takes care of themselves," resident Kevin Coyne said. 

Even if the state law on beach access changes, it does not fix the local parking issues. Many communities have public beaches, but non-residents are not allowed to park anywhere near them.

"Whether it’s signage or towing or fines, it’s just tougher and tougher to get to the cost when it should be easier," Smith said. 

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