EASTHAM –– After 14 months of work beleaguered by supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages, and a storm that overturned a mobile office trailer, the new bath houses at Nauset Light Beach are 60 percent complete, according to Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) Supt. Brian Carlstrom.
“It’s on track to be done by May,” Carlstrom said. The project was originally scheduled to be finished by last summer, but 60 spots in the 90-space parking lot were fenced off for last year’s peak months and remain so. Last summer was particularly frustrating to beachgoers trying to navigate the eastern sliver of the parking lot that remained open because on many days no work was being done despite the construction equipment and mounds of dirt.
“It might look like things are going slow from time to time, but they’re progressing,” said Carlstrom. The project’s $2.1-million budget has not been affected by the elongated timeline, he said. “A whole litany” of shortages contributed to the delay, said Carlstrom.
A much larger problem for the Seashore is the Nauset Light parking lot. The northeast corner of the lot is currently cordoned off because of erosion under the bluff. Carlstrom said the National Park Service fenced off the area out of an abundance of caution.
“That parking lot is not going to be there long-term,” he said. “It’s changed dramatically from when the park was created in 1961. It’s going to continue to change.”
Erosion hits the entire area hard. Nauset Light Beach Road, which runs parallel to the coast, was relocated last year. The stairs at Nauset Light Beach had to be repaired four years in a row before they were abandoned altogether in favor of a path winding behind the dune. The old bath houses at Nauset Light had to be demolished in 2017 because the bluff had eroded so much that the septic tanks were within 10 feet of the edge, according to then-Supt. George Price.
Carlstrom believes that the new bath houses will survive 20 years of erosion. “Hopefully, longer than that,” he said.
Carlstrom noted that the Park Service has already begun planning for the day when the parking lot will be no more. He said the Seashore would likely use a shuttle system similar to the one currently serving Coast Guard Beach and Little Creek parking lot on Doane Road. While the Seashore owns 125 acres of woods in Eastham running north from Cable Road to the Wellfleet town line, Carlstrom said that he would like to avoid land clearing in any future parking solution. One possibility, he said, could involve collaboration with Nauset Regional High School, but nothing is set in stone.
Maintaining an Aging Park
The bath house project is just one of many multimillion-dollar deferred maintenance efforts for which Carlstrom must find funding. According to the CCNS website, the park needs $48.9 million for such projects. The Seashore is currently demolishing 40 structures “that have been underutilized or are in poor or worse condition.” These include the dilapidated homes formerly occupied by Air Force members and their families at the Highland Center in North Truro.
The CCNS recently completed a $2.1-million renovation of Highland Light in Truro. In 2021, it finished badly needed repairs at the Coast Guard Station in Eastham. Carlstrom said the Seashore completed a number of water and septic projects in the past several years.
So is the Seashore, which is responsible for maintaining 300 buildings and six public beaches, chipping away at its deferred maintenance faster than it’s adding new projects?
“I’m not sure we’re quite there yet,” Carlstrom said. “But it’s getting better.”