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. He is a landscape historian and preservationist specializing in public landscapes, particularly municipal and national park planning and design. He has written two award-winning books, Wilderness by Design (1998) and Mission 66: Modernism and the National Park Dilemma (2007) that describe the twentieth-century history of planning and design in the U.S. national park system as the context for considering its future management. His career in the fields of landscape architecture and historic preservation began in the professional world, where he worked for New York City Parks and the National Park Service, where he was the lead historical landscape architect at the Denver Service Center. He also worked for non-profit organizations and private design offices. He has taught at the Harvard GSD, the University of Virginia, and at the University of Massachusetts.