Wild cranberries were first cultivated in Cape Cod in 1815 after retired sea captain Henry Hall saw they flourished where sand blew over them. In the 1840s, the former whaling port of Harwich became the site of the first commercial cranberry bogs in the US.
Cape Cod – Fact Check

The vibe stays the same, but the climate doesn't

Photo by Julia Cumes

Cape Cod – Fact Check The vibe stays the same, but the climate doesn't

Whenever I cross one of the bridges from the mainland onto Cape Cod, I always feel like I am taking off a pair of too-tight shoes.

Michael Schuman
Michael Schuman

Arriving on the Cape is about instantaneous exhaling and gradual unwinding. And one of the first places I usually stop to clear my head is Cape Cod National Seashore. It is a national park in all but name, and my first order of business is to drop a beach blanket by the ocean’s edge and do nothing more strenuous than turn every half hour to avoid sunburn. But when I really want to see Cape Cod at its most basic, I walk one of the footpaths that snake their way around beaches and forests.

Here, I can smell the sea and feel the fresh air on my face, cleansed by the vast Atlantic that stretches to the horizon. As the dirt and sand morph into an elevated boardwalk, the oaks and tall pines give way to strands of Atlantic white cedar and the mossy, brackish water of the swamp, once a glacial depression filled with fresh water about 1,800 years ago.

Change here is nothing new – and not always measured in thousands of years. “Cape Cod is a very dynamic place that is always changing, geologically speaking,” says Jason J. Taylor. “This can be seen daily, seasonally, and from year-to-year. Over the last hundred years, Cape Cod’s Atlantic Ocean shoreline has eroded, on average, three feet [one meter] per year. Some years the change is less, some years more, although more than average erosion can be expected in coming decades with sea-level rise, increased storm intensity and increased storm frequency – all effects of climate change.”

Jason is chief of natural resources management and science at Cape Cod National Seashore. To everyone who lives and visits here, climate change is real and dangerous. “Increased erosion could have a direct impact on wildlife and wildlife habitat, cultural resources, visitor access and park operations,” he says. “For example, by needing to replace or move infrastructure like stairs, buildings and parking lots more frequently. Sea-level rise is already flooding park coastal marshes, leading to losses of marsh vegetation. In turn, habitat is lost, erosion potential increases, coastal resiliency decreases, and so on. Temperature changes on both land and water are also impacting species, both those we like to watch, and those we like to harvest.”

It is a strange – and worrying – thought in a place whose appeal to many visitors is its lack of change.

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