WELLFLEET — When the Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) proposed in 2018 to extend the Cape Cod Rail Trail bike path, it was one part of an expansive vision: a 70-mile network of dedicated bike trails that would span Cape Cod.
The extension would be a key link connecting a dedicated 25.5-mile bike path with a bike lane on Route 6, putting cyclists who get as far as Wellfleet closer to the cherished dune trails in Provincetown.
Wellfleet voters saw the DCR’s plan differently — as adding complexity to an already difficult intersection and as a danger to cyclists. At town meeting in 2019, they rejected the select board’s recommendation on going forward and passed an article demanding the town ask the state to halt the extension at the Wellfleet Hollow State Campground and consider other options.
To date, no new options have emerged.
The land for the trail’s extension was purchased by DCR in 2016. Three years later, the first phase of the project — an extension from the parking lot at Lecount Hollow Road to the campground — was well underway.
Now, the trail extends for about a mile before ending abruptly in a small clearing at the edge of the campground marked with signs announcing “No Bikes Beyond This Point” and “Please Turn Around Here.”
Over the course of about an hour on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, biker after biker coasted along the path to that point only to realize their journeys had come to an unceremonious stop.
Joe Lardizabal and Monique Reyes were visiting Orleans from New York and New Jersey. They mounted their bikes and headed toward Provincetown because, Lardizabal said, there were “only good things in that direction.”
“We love the Provincetown trails at Race Point Beach,” Reyes said. “That’s one thing that made us want to come back for sure.”
Arriving at the turnaround sign, Lardizabal said, was disappointing and “a little bit anticlimactic.”
Christy Karach, visiting from New Jersey, called the terminus an “abrupt question mark.” She was particularly baffled by a green “End” sign next to a dirt trail that appeared to stretch far beyond the paved road. “Do we stop? Do we keep going?” Karach asked. “It’s confusing to see a path and an ‘End’ sign.”
The unpaved path, which goes to Duck Pond, proved too sandy for this reporter’s bike to travel much farther than 20 meters without its front wheel getting stuck. At least one other cyclist attempted the path before giving up and turning around.
It was “inconvenient,” said McNeely Myers of Wellfleet, who emerged from the Duck Pond trail walking her bike. She had wanted to explore possible new bike connections to nearby ponds but left unimpressed.
The planned extension would have deposited cyclists on Route 6 just south of Cumberland Farms and about a half mile from the intersection with Main Street. There, it would have connected with a bike lane on the highway, designed as part of the Mass. Dept. of Transportation’s plans for Route 6 improvements.
Cyclists who reached the campground that Saturday, a mix of Cape Codders and vacationers, agreed that a full extension still holds appeal.
Myers said she felt a stronger bike network could reduce reliance on cars: “We really need to upset things in order to put pedestrian and bike infrastructure in and get people out of their blinking cars.”
“It needs to go farther,” said Kevin Barry of Dennis, though he acknowledged the scariness of biking along the shoulder of Route 6.
The Wellfleet Bike and Walkways Committee played a leading role in organizing against the DCR’s plans. In August 2021, the committee produced a report analyzing the proposed Rail Trail extension and alternative routes on five objectives: safety, practicality, user experience, conservancy, and connectivity. Its analysis found that the DCR route ranked 28th among 28 possible routes and that it “unnecessarily promotes increased pedestrian and cyclist use beside a notoriously congested and dangerous roadway where users will be forced to contend with high-density motor vehicle traffic on the Outer Cape’s sole highway artery.”
Under sustained local pressure, the DCR caved on the full extension in 2021, even as the first phase of the extension and the DOT Route 6 improvements proceeded.
Brent Harold of Wellfleet, who lobbied against the extension in several columns in the Cape Cod Times, told the Independent that directing bicycle traffic from the Rail Trail along Route 6 was “a terrible idea” opposed by a large majority of locals.
Concerns about road safety on Route 6 in Wellfleet — particularly along the stretch near Main Street — are not unfounded. In 2013, Wellfleet teenager Miles Tibbetts was struck and killed by a vehicle while biking to work near Cumberland Farms. A cyclist was injured by a car at the Main Street intersection in 2020.
But Harold said the problems with the extension went beyond safety and had to do with the state’s process. “The story is the state trying to strongarm local people, and local people saying, ‘Look, we’re the ones who this is going to affect,’ ” Harold said. “Not only will we be affected more by it, but we know more about it.
“It feels like the state’s just kind of waiting until the thing dies down,” he added. “Then they’ll go ahead and do what they want to do.”
John Cumbler, a former member of the bike and walkways committee who fought for the extension, also predicted that the state would eventually carry out the plans but for a different reason: lack of better options.
Despite legitimate safety concerns, “the issue is, for me, what are your alternatives?” Cumbler asked. “If your alternatives are to do nothing, then the long run is less safe and less family-friendly biking in Wellfleet.
“That’s where it sits: the state’s waiting for the town to come up with a viable alternative,” he added. “The town can’t come up with a viable alternative because there isn’t one.”
In an interview, Harold proposed a possible route that would take cyclists from the Rail Trail to Wellfleet’s town center while avoiding Route 6. Cyclists could take Lecount Hollow Road to Ocean View Drive and then follow Long Pond Road back into town. Other Wellfleet and Truro back roads could carry cyclists further up the Cape. “It’s not an efficient way,” Harold said, “but it’s a winding way that gets you eventually to Provincetown.”
The committee’s report did propose two alternatives. The highest-scoring route relies on Old Kings Highway to carry cyclists to Truro but faced resistance from Cape Cod National Seashore staff, according to the report. The highest-scoring route that would not travel through the National Seashore would take cyclists along Old Kings Highway to Gull Pond Road and then on to Route 6 into Truro. The report gave it an “acceptable” rating, ranking it 17th out of 28.
The committee looked to the town to present these alternatives to the DCR. “If the Town Government and Selectboard do not take decisive action, MassDOT and the DCR will continue with their projects as the designs currently show them,” the report predicted.
But now the bike and walkways committee is defunct — according to the town website, it held its last meeting in May 2022 — and the town seems not to have united around an alternative path. A DCR spokesperson confirmed that phase two of the extension was on hold until the Route 6 improvements are completed but said the agency still believes the extension will be an important piece of the Rail Trail.
“Maybe the status quo is the best thing right now,” Harold said.