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In the mid-nineteenth century,
Thoreau recognized the importance of preserving the complex and fragile
landscape of Cape Cod, with its weathered windmills, expansive beaches,
dunes, wetlands, harbors, and the lives that flourished here, supported
by the maritime industries and saltworks. One hundred years later, the
National Park Service―working with a group of concerned locals,
then-senator John F. Kennedy, and other supporters―took on the challenge
of meeting the needs of a burgeoning public in this region of unique
natural beauty and cultural heritage.
To those who were settled in
the remote wilds of the Cape, the impending development was
threatening, and as the award-winning historian Ethan Carr explains, the
visionary plan to create a national seashore came very close to
failure. Success was achieved through unprecedented public outreach, as
the National Park Service and like-minded Cape Codders worked to
convince entire communities of the long-term value of a park that could
accommodate millions of tourists. Years of contentious negotiations
resulted in the innovative compromise between private and public
interests now known as the “Cape Cod model.”
The Greatest Beach is essential reading for all who are concerned with protecting the nation’s gradually diminishing cultural landscapes. In his final analysis of Cape Cod National Seashore, Carr poses provocative questions about how to balance the conservation of natural and cultural resources in regions threatened by increasing visitation and development.
Ethan Carr, PhD, FASLA, is a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the director of the MLA program.