Miracle of the Commons: Erosion and Land Loss on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod National Seashore

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Richard Burroughs
Essay Abstract: 
The Cape Cod National Seashore, a National Park, stretches for 39 miles along the east coast of Massachusetts. In order to protect coastal ecosystems and processes, development in the park is limited, and structures that alter the movement of sand along the coast are prohibited completely. As a result erosion takes place without human interference on the eastern shore of Cape Cod. Though erosion results in property and income loss along the shoreline, evidence from interviews, articles, and public forums shows that residents of the Outer Cape have a fatalist sense of acceptance regarding erosion and associated value losses. My research also suggests that such losses are accepted because the value of private property in that region largely comes from the value of the wild and uninterrupted beach. Protection of private property through the use of coastal armor such as seawalls, groins and revetments comes at the expense of a straight shoreline and a wide beach. On this eastern shore, residents so highly value the public beach that they submit to the fate of potential personal property loss, thereby creating a “miracle of the commons."