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The push to make more beaches open to the public

Posted at 12:11 PM, May 30, 2022

TRURO, Mass. — As millions of Americans begin planning trips to their favorite beaches this summer, many people might be surprised to learn that some of this country's most tranquil pieces of coastline aren't always open to the public.

But there is a growing push to make sure more beaches are open and accessible to everyone.

Among them is Julian Cyr, a state senator from Massachusetts who grew up on Cape Cod and now represents the district which includes hundreds of square miles of coastline.

"Government needs to make sure the public can access these special places," Cyr said, standing alongside the Atlantic Ocean recently.

Cyr is part of an ongoing push to make sure beaches continue to be part of the public's realm.

"It is jarring to be communing with nature, and you come across a sign or someone who says you can't be there," he added.

To understand how it came to be that individual property owners could own the beach in some states, you have to travel back when some of this country's first settlers created the Colonial Ordinances of 1641–1647. Those laws allowed for the building of private wharves to bolster maritime trade. Still today, that same colonial ordinance is often interpreted to mean any homeowner can own a parcel of beach that is part of their private property.

"At a time when those who are the most fortunate have access to everything, it's incumbent on those of us in government to make sure people can access these special places," said Cyr who is working on legislation to allow greater public access to beaches in Massachusetts.

Andrew Kahrl, a professor at the University of Virginia, has done extensive research on why not every beach in this country is considered public land. He Said it serves the greater public good to have coastal pieces of property not be owned by any one individual.

"The public loses out on a common resource," he said.