On a clear day, visitors at the top of The Knob, located at the end of Quissett Harbor Road in Woods Hole, can see New Bedford to the northwest, the canal entrance to the north, and the Elizabeth Islands to the southwest.
“There are few places where anyone can walk out and get a 360-degree view of Buzzards Bay from such a vantage point,” said Paul F. Hogan, former president of the Quissett Harbor Preservation Trust, when discussing the property’s long-term management a few years ago.
Since it was willed to conservation by Cornelia L. Carey in 1973, this fragile promontory and the 12 acres upon which it sits has been known for its natural beauty, stunning views, abundance of birds, walking trails and beaches.
The Knob serves as a northern barrier to the harbor while offering protection to Gansett Point. Right now, the physical integrity of The Knob is in trouble and the rock armor that holds it in place needs urgent attention.
An engineering study of The Knob identified three areas that are in need of repair, said Dana F. Rodin, president of the Quissett House Land Trust and volunteer land steward of The Knob.
They include the northwest wedge of the promontory, the “dumpstone” wedge at the corner of the promontory near the stairs, and 106 feet of the north side of the long, narrow, causeway section leading to the base of the stairs.
The causeway runs from where the path leading to The Knob opens to the view of the bay and the harbor, to the base of the stairs.
That stretch has been repaired before but as it is significantly exposed to storms, it needs to be repaired again, he said.
The northwest and the dumpstone wedge were not included in the permitting for repair when work was done on The Knob in 2004 and 2005 because it was not deemed necessary at that time, Mr. Rodin said.
“We wanted to permit that area this time to install ‘geotextile,’ which is an underlayment to prevent erosion of the underlying soil material. ‘Backer stone’ is then added, and then the rock armor stone,” he said.
Repairs are needed not because the armor washes away, Mr. Rodin said, but because erosion and wave action cause “subsidence,” a gradual settling or sudden sinking because of underground material movement.
Storms from the north, the northwest and the northeast can cause heavy wind and wave action.
If the wind is strong enough and the waves are high enough, Mr. Rodin said, “overtopping” of The Knob’s rock armor occurs and the armor structure “takes a pounding from above,” which displaces stone and causes it to move. Some pieces fall out and expose the underlying material.
“The result is that you no longer have the intended stable protective structure,” he said.
“We shudder at every nor’easter,” said Barrie W. Murray, chairwoman of the Salt Pond Areas Bird Sanctuary’s board of directors. “The Knob is slowly being gobbled away.”
The Knob peninsula was willed to the Salt Pond Areas Bird Sanctuary upon Ms. Carey’s death, and is managed and supported by that nonprofit organization in collaboration with the Quissett Harbor House Land Trust and the Quissett Harbor Preservation Trust.
A capital campaign to fund the repairs at The Knob was launched by these three groups, and the current work—as was the work 15 years ago—will be funded entirely by private donations.
“There is so much misunderstanding about The Knob in Falmouth,” said Katharine M. Taylor, executive director of the Salt Pond Areas Bird Sanctuary. “People think it is town-owned. It’s not. It is privately funded and maintained.”
“Tourism (at The Knob) has exploded,” she said, “But corresponding donations have not.”
The heavy stone work will not begin until late December or early January, but large machinery can be seen parked at the base of The Knob’s path next to a pile of the large, angular stones most suitable for rock armor.
The main path has been cleared to the 12-foot permitted width, and a large sign at the base of the path alerts visitors of the upcoming “emergency repairs and trail closures.”
Mr. Rodin emphasized that the conservation commission has approved a plan for new vegetation to be planted to replace vegetation that will be removed or destroyed during repair work.
In addition to vegetation removed in the widening of the main path, when the heavy machinery transits the causeway, the beach grass will be lost.
“I can assure you this hurts me more than it hurts you,” said Mr. Rodin, who saw the beach grass lost and replanted after the 2004-2005 repair work.
“I know some people have been upset to see the widening of the path,” he said. “But we do have a vegetation restoration plan; what is lost will be replaced, in many cases with healthy native plantings.
“It is good for people to focus on this. Even though the vegetation that was there was green, it wasn’t all the healthiest vegetation. It will be replaced with a healthy mix of native species. We look forward to that, and we will be monitoring and tending to the survival of the new planting.”
Repair work will also take place on the harbor side of The Knob, adjacent to the wooden stairs that go to the tideland, Mr. Rodin said.
“The bank is badly eroded by the stairs and is in an unstable condition,” he said, noting that the erosion increased after the three significant wind storms last year in October, February and April.
This bank will be shored up with sand-filled coir bags anchored by green oak posts. Replanting will take place there as well, he said.
During repair work, the main trail and overlook at The Knob will be closed, as will connecting trails to and from the harbor side trail. The harbor side trail and Fisherman’s Beach will remain open.
“This has taken a lot of money, a lot of red tape, and is a very serious project,” Ms. Murray said. “The decision to close the trail to The Knob is not a decision made lightly. We are trying to be mindful of people getting upset; we want to publicize that this is an emergency repair, not just basic maintenance.”
“We are fighting time, and Mother Nature,” she said. “We are trying as hard as we can to fix the rock armor. We are doing what is best for the land we have been given charge of.”
When the last Knob restoration project was being explored in 2004, planners considered varying scopes of work, ranging from removing all rock armor and letting erosion gradually destroy The Knob, to 100-year storm designs consisting of heavy stonework with no room for soil or vegetation.
At that time, the decision was made to design and fund an intermediate reconstruction to create a baseline condition that would allow for periodic and more minor repairs as needed in the future. Which is now.
Starting in 2017, when the ecological condition of The Knob was once again examined for damage, one suggestion to save The Knob was to lift or raise it up.
Again, the decision-makers opted to repair the armoring where it is in the worst shape, for now.
“All of this work will increase the longevity of the protection The Knob offers for the harbor, and, most importantly, it will protect this very popular and beloved aesthetic and recreational resource,” Mr. Rodin said. “We are hoping for public cooperation.”