[NPS Arrowhead] U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service Archeology Program
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common ground

Raising the Hunley
Summer/Fall 2001, vol. 6(1)

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*  Casting for a Solution

(photo) Underwater archeologist working on the Hunley project.

"The Park Service preserves and interprets our cultural treasures . . . If you have great resources you have great opportunities for interpreting them to the public, and research feeds the dynamic. "

Bill Lipe

by Joseph Flanagan

Cape Cod National Seashore plays a central role in the lives of local surfcasters and off-road-vehicle users, who for years have found personal fulfillment there. But to them, Park Service decisions sometimes seem arbitrary, ill informed, and influenced by “outsiders.” That’s one of the findings of a recent NPS study, part of a push to reach out to those with traditional ties to the parks.

When the seashore closed 30 miles of beach to protect nesting piping plovers, it brought a problem into focus sometimes faced by park managers: conflict with local constituents over larger goals. Closing the beach meant an endangered species could raise its young peacefully. But surfcasters and ORV users saw it as infringing on their traditional right to access.

The study, commissioned by the NPS applied ethnography program, portrays a group that derives a sense of identity from a bond with the beach. Many anglers are of the WW II generation, which lends a “freedom” theme to the findings, says Eileen Mueller, the cultural anthropologist who carried out the work. For most, the tradition is handed down through generations. Increasingly the anglers are women. Mueller interviewed the anglers on fishing trips, capturing not only the thrill of surfcasting, but how the solitude and beauty enrich it. “For me it’s like a religious experience,” said one.

The group has intimate knowledge of the shore’s resources, Mueller reports, which some of them say the park ignores in favor of input from environmental organizations. Respondents believe they should be systematically consulted when decisions are on the table, not merely notified of meetings. One of the biggest revelations was the surfcasters’ “startling” range of ages and backgrounds, says Maria Burks, the seashore’s superintendent. “If that is reflective of the broader group, there will be different kinds of contacts we might make [in the future],” she says.

The report evidences a willingness to work together, a sentiment shared by the anglers and ORV users. Says one, “Without the [Park Service] the whole area would be condos, so I’m thankful they’re here.”