To those who spend time at Sandy Neck in the summer using their off-road vehicles to travel down the beach, the long stretch of sand bounded by Cape Cod Bay and Barnstable Harbor is a kind of paradise.
Members of the public made that clear in comments made to the Sandy Neck Advisory Board at their meeting Monday night and cautioned the board to consider carefully any changes in policy at the beach.
The board has been considering changes to the number of off-road vehicles—campers and day-trippers—allowed on the beach on busy summer weekends because of safety and aesthetic concerns. Adjustments in the way the vehicles are required to park on the beach is among the changes being considered.
Reached yesterday, Richards B. French, chairman of the Sandy Neck board, said it is up to Sandy Neck Beach Park Manager Nina Z. Coleman to decide what changes will be made.
He said he anticipates that the board will recommend that an additional employee be added to monitor the parking so that more vehicles can fit safely on the beach.
Sandy Neck is run as an enterprise account, meaning its operating funds come out of its earnings from beach stickers and other income sources. Use of the funds to add an employee would need to be brought before Acting Town Manager Thomas K. Lynch and approved by the Barnstable Town Council.
Mr. French said Ms. Coleman and the board have been listening closely to the users of the beach and their suggestions.
The idea, he said, is to make the beach experience more orderly on the busiest summer weekends when things can get chaotic.
“She doesn’t want a lot of commotion on the beach,” Mr. French said of Ms. Coleman.
When it comes to parking, Mr. French said, a simple adjustment, parking perpendicular to the beach instead of parallel for example, can create two to three more spaces.
Among those who spoke about the beach at the Monday meeting was Christopher J. Greim of Sandwich. The West Barnstable firefighter told the board that he considers Sandy Neck his summer home and counts the days until summer when he is able to bring his camper to the beach.
“I work all winter to enjoy Sandy Neck,” he said.
Describing days on the beach surrounding by playing children, picnicking families, and gatherings to watch sunsets, Mr. Greim said, “It is truly a culture all its own.”
He advised that visitors slow down and simply enjoy the beach. “No place is perfect, but Sandy Neck comes dangerously close,” he said.
Along with enjoying the beach, Mr. Greim said he is all too aware that other families are stuck in traffic and paying $2,000 to $3,000 per week to enjoy time on Cape Cod. For off-roaders visiting Sandy Neck, all they need for beach-front property is a seasonal sticker for $150, Mr. Greim said.
With that in mind, he cautioned the board to consider very carefully any changes they might make in beach access.
Ms. Coleman reminded those gathered why the issue of off-road beach access was being discussed at all. She showed slides of the 40 percent growth in off-road vehicle permit sales on Sandy Neck from 2003 to 2011. Camping use has increased 55 percent and day-trip use has increased 50 percent.
“We’re reaching a point where the carrying capacity is being exceeded with regard to safety,” Ms. Coleman said.
Ms. Coleman also announced that the gatehouse is open from 9 AM to 4 PM in April and staff are selling beach stickers “at a very fast rate.”
“It’s up 12 percent for this time of year,” Ms. Coleman said.
She said the piping plovers, the endangered shorebird that nests on the beach, have returned to Sandy Neck for their annual breeding cycle. Because the area where the birds nest must be blocked off, their breeding habits impact the area of the beach available for off-roaders.
After the meeting, the board went into an executive session for the purpose of discussing the purchase of a quarter-acre parcel about halfway down the Sandy Neck peninsula that has a 670-square-foot cottage on it. The house has no heat, electricity or plumbing, according to assessing records.
Some cottages on Sandy Neck are privately owned but the Town of Barnstable owns the land under the cottages. The cottage owners lease the land from the town.
Property leases on Sandy Neck are for 10-year periods and the leases of all the cottages in the Sandy Neck colony are up this June.
The Town of Barnstable has right of first refusal on any leases if the owners do not want to renew.
The property being discussed has an assessed value of 56,000. The annual taxes are $488.