Cape Cod Parking Lot Removal and Relocation

Several Cape Cod towns and the Cape Cod Commission have taken specific measures to adapt beach parking lots to the impacts of climate change, including extreme storms and sea-level rise that are causing increased beach erosion.   These coastal communities are rethinking “quick fix” repairs to vulnerable parking infrastructure and are instead implementing a variety of soft and hard measures as more permanent solutions to long-term climate change impacts.  Many of the town activities were captured in the adaptation blog “Great American Adaptation Road Trip” by Allie Goldstein and Kirsten Howard, graduates of the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. 

Cape Cod parking lots provide critical beach access and are tourist attractions for vista-seekers on the Cape Cod peninsula. These lots are threatened by eroding beaches due to storms and sea-level rise. According to the 2010 Cape Cod National Seashore Integrated Parking and Transit Study, Cape Cod’s eastern ocean-side coastline is expected to experience a generalized long-term bluff erosion rate of one meter per year, while the erosion rate for the west-facing bayside bluff is estimated at half a meter per year.  Severe storms and sea level rise can accelerate these trends. For example, in February of 2013, winter storm Nemo eroded twenty feet of beach from the shores of Brewster, MA and neighboring towns.  According to the Brewster Conservation Department, the town normally faces two to three feet of beach erosion per year from wave action and storms.  During the past five years, however, Brewster has faced an average of ten feet of beach erosion due to storms and sea level rise.  Pieces of some parking lots, such as at Paine’s Creek and Ellis Landing in Brewster, have completely broken off into the sea due to beach loss.

Previously, temporary fixes to beach erosion such as planting vegetation to hold the sand in place were common. Historically, localities have also used renourishment, taking sand from another location to replenish a beach facing erosion.  Other methods have included stone revetments (sloping structure parallel to the shore) and sea walls. However, these solutions are only temporary and can cause damage to shoreline ecosystems.

Several Cape Cod towns and conservation commissions have begun implementing longer-term solutions to address the impacts of recent extreme weather events and beach erosion.  Individual towns have taken different approaches.

In Brewster, MA, the town has adopted a strategy of managed retreat, and has purchased coastal salt marsh and extensive open space to help implement planned projects. The Brewster Conservation Commission decreased the size of the parking lot at Paine’s Creek and moved it away from the coastline. The Commission planted two hundred shrubs on the now-exposed beach to keep sand in place temporarily. Since relocating the parking lot at Paine’s Creek, it has experienced some inundation but overall very minimal damage from major storms like Sandy and Nemo.  This project was funded by an existing grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, for the primary purpose of repairing a storm water drain under the parking lot. Brewster also plans to relocate almost 60 parking spots at Breakwater Beach inland and rebuild the lot with permeable pavement to help manage stormwater. The plan also involves placing an artificial dune, built on top of a stabilizing fence, in front of the new parking lot to help prevent sudden erosion. The town received a $200,000 grant from the Massachusetts Coastal Community Resilience program in 2014 to study erosion and sand movement, identify vulnerable areas, and plan for relocating or adapting vulnerable beach parking and access sites.

Provincetown, MA has implemented managed retreat combined with flexible infrastructure (buildings which can be moved or altered to adapt to impacts of extreme weather events) to address continuous damage to the Herring Cove parking lot. The Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission, an advisory body representing six Cape Cod towns, was tasked with addressing the repeated erosion, and ultimately moved the parking lot back 125 feet away from the shore. The Commission also rebuilt several Herring Cove bathhouse facilities with stronger hurricane clips attached to their frames so they can be picked up by a crane and pulled further from the shore as the sea level rises.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This case study was last updated on January 20, 2016.



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