WELLFLEET — It’s looking like a dry summer down at Cahoon Hollow Beach. The Cape Cod National Seashore is moving forward with plans to ban drinking and open containers of alcohol at the beach, with enforcement help from the Wellfleet Police Dept. The rule change will be a shock to the beach’s system, which in recent years has attracted throngs of partygoers in the summer.
The new regulation will take effect on May 20 and will last through Sept. 10, said National Seashore Chief Ranger Michael Valora. It will continue for future summers until “the drunken behavior is under control,” he said.
According to an email sent to the select board by Wellfleet Police Chief Michael Hurley, traffic going to Cahoon Hollow has grown 20 percent each year since 2017. “This has resulted in an increase of excessive alcohol consumption, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and improper disposal of human waste,” Hurley wrote.
Open consumption of alcohol is currently allowed on all Cape Cod National Seashore beaches. The regulation change would ban consumption only at Cahoon Hollow, said Valora.
Wellfleet’s bylaws forbid open consumption at all town-owned beaches.
The change is the first part of a three-pronged approach to curb the Cahoon Hollow chaos that Hurley outlined to the select board. Phase one is to ban consumption and open containers of alcohol. Phase two could involve changing the regulations on possession of alcohol in an open or closed container. The town, which owns a 200-foot-wide swath of the beach, would have to amend its bylaws by a town meeting vote to make this change.
Phase three, which Hurley described as a last resort, would be to consider closing Cahoon Hollow Beach entirely. “This is not a move our departments take lightly and would be a result of phase one and two not working,” Hurley wrote in his email to the select board.
“This is really all about public safety,” Hurley told the Independent. And the biggest public safety issue, Hurley said, is the traffic that congests Ocean View Drive on summer Saturdays.
As early as 6 a.m., a long line of cars develops, blocking any possibility for through traffic, Hurley said, requiring one or two police officers to manage the chaotic scene. (There are only 120 parking spaces at Cahoon Hollow and approximately 200 spaces at White Crest Beach, one mile to the south.)
According to the police dept, a total of 352 charter buses dropped passengers off at Cahoon last summer — a 46-percent increase from 2021. More visitors arrived by car using apps like Uber and Lyft.
Last July 4 weekend alone, there were 89 recorded charter buses dropping off and picking up a total of 2,077 passengers, a 34-percent increase from 2021. The police dept. had to call the sheriff’s office and the Harwich police for backup.
“If it keeps growing at the rate it has been in years past, it will become unmanageable,” Hurley said. “We are a small police department as it is, and if we’re dedicating all these resources to one area, we still have a whole town to patrol,” he added.
The department has 15 full-time officers and deploys three or four officers at Cahoon Hollow Beach every summer weekend.
Though the regulation change does not directly target traffic, Hurley said that the vehicular tangle “is a result of the fact that you can drink on national park property.”
The police dept. has also had to defuse scuffles on the sand that Hurley said were the result of heavy drinking — including a group of 40-some vacationers in 2020 who were exchanging “fighting words.”
“I’ve been waiting for this to happen,” select board member Kathleen Bacon said. “Some people are going to find it extreme, maybe draconian. But it’s time for us to take back the chaos that exists down there.”
“I’m just sorry to hear that it’s come this point,” Vice Chair Michael DeVasto said.
“All of us have probably gone down to the beach and had a couple of beers in the cooler,” Chair Ryan Curley said. “It’s always been part of the culture.”
But a longer-term goal, Hurley said, is a “shift in the culture.”
DeVasto had another suggestion. “It seems to be mostly a frat-related crowd,” he said. “If there’s a way we can host our own event that’s really lame to frat boys, like a wine gala, the easiest way to get people to quit coming is to make it lame.”
Whither the Funk?
Raphael Richter, who owns the Funk Bus and Cape Cab, told the Independent that he is not worried about the short-term effects of a dry Cahoon Hollow on his business, but he is concerned when he looks farther down the road.
“I am worried about our ability to provide year-round jobs as a result of this change,” Richter said. “Summer business still supports our ability to maintain a year-round staff of our size.” Richter said he employs a total of 80 people year-round.
The regulation change is “all about optics,” Richter said. “There has never been true justification for why there is a public safety emergency, aside from the fact that there is a large crowd.
“The information that has been provided around the number of buses and other metrics to justify their approach is not roundly informed,” Richter continued. “They will tell you there was once almost a fight in 2020. Is one or two ‘almost fights’ over a decade really a public safety problem?”
Richter said that he has offered to hike client fees to subsidize further public safety measures, like increased police details or an ambulance stationed at the beach every Saturday. He currently pays $500 a week to bring his charter buses to Cahoon Hollow.
“I appreciate that bus companies have offered that financial relief,” Hurley wrote to the Independent, “realizing the magnitude of what we are dealing with at Cahoon and its cost.”
The concern is not just money but actual staff, Hurley wrote. Wellfleet’s department is down two officers due to vacancies, and other police departments and the sheriff’s office are short-handed as well.
“The minimum coverage we can get on the beaches most weekends is two ATV officers,” Hurley wrote, “which, when you see the crowd size and bus volume, is not a lot of resources.”