WELLFLEET — The state Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is finishing work on a new parking lot at 2520 Route 6 as part of its construction of a bike trail extension from Lecount Hollow Road to the Wellfleet Hollow Campground.
The state DCR demolished the buildings on the property (including a cottage that had been rented by year-round tenants), graded the lot, and added a wooden fence, berms, and trees.
But the lot won’t be used anytime soon, said the DCR’s Olivia Dorrance this week.
The state purchased the 0.46-acre commercial-zoned property from Charles Amsler in 2019 for $341,000. Originally, it was going to be a parking area with benches and bathrooms at the end of the bike trail extension on the old railroad bed, two miles north of Lecount Hollow Road. It would have become the new terminus of the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which begins in South Yarmouth.
But residents objected to the state’s plan, arguing that it was reckless to direct cyclists to Route 6, particularly at this spot, the site of a fatal bike accident in 2013. Sixteen-year-old Miles Tibbets was killed by a car while crossing the highway.
At the April 23, 2019 town meeting, voters overwhelmingly favored an article asking that town and state officials explore other routes and halt any planning of the bike trail extension until deliberations on alternatives were complete.
In September 2020, the state agency agreed to the town meeting voters’ request. In a letter to the select board, DCR officials stated the agency had decided to “phase” the project and extend the bike path only as far as the campground.
Nevertheless, when the first phase began in March, the state also obtained demolition permits to clear the small buildings at the Amsler lot. The Wellfleet Housing Authority had inquired about trying to move or somehow use the cottage there. It was a long-time year-round unit, said Elaine McIlroy, chair of the housing authority. But the DCR responded that the agency planned to use it itself. The cottage is now gone and presumably demolished, McIlroy said. The lot has been used for staging of construction equipment as part of phase one, Dorrance said.
Phase one is ongoing, but when it is complete the area “will be gated and locked,” Dorrance stated in an email to the Independent.
In fact, the DCR is no longer referring to it as a parking lot.
“This parcel is not a parking area or a trailhead and is not expected to accommodate either for the remainder of phase one,” Dorrance stated.
This has raised questions about what exactly the DCR plans to do with the lot.
State officials have asserted that the original plan to extend the rail trail from the campground to Route 6 is still the best bike route available.
“DCR continues to believe that the safest and best approach for users of the Cape Cod Rail Trail and for Wellfleet residents of all ages will be to continue the Cape Cod Rail Trail on the former railroad corridor to a new terminus trailhead at Route 6,” stated a 2020 letter from the DCR to the Wellfleet Select Board. “However, as requested, we have put those plans on hold for the present.”
Peter Cook, chair of the Wellfleet Bike & Walkways Committee, said the DCR speaks “in riddles,” but it sounds as if they plan to extend the bike trail to the highway “when they get the green light.”
Select board chair Ryan Curley said he cannot predict DCR’s plans. “But I am sure the DCR won’t give it up easily,” he added.
In August, the bike & walkways committee completed an 86-page analysis of other possible bike routes from Wellfleet to Truro. The state’s plan directing cyclists to Route 6 “came in dead last” based on the committee’s criteria: safety, environmental preservation, preservation of town character, respect for private property, and improvement of connectivity, Cook said.
But their first-choice route faces a formidable roadblock, namely the Cape Cod National Seashore. Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom has said the National Park Service has no interest in hosting “new assets we will be forced to maintain.”
With no viable bike path alternatives on the horizon, DCR may now be in a better position to push for the Route 6 terminus. Or it could defer to local opposition. That would leave Wellfleet with a parking lot with no purpose.