Have you been to Cape Cod for a vacation? Did you have an easy time or difficulty with access? If you are looking for more accessibility information on one of the most popular vacation spots on the east coast, David Whitenett offers his perspective as a person who uses a power wheelchair in search of trails to enjoy nature. Thanks Dave for sharing your experiences in this Guest Post!
Herring Cove Beach
On Friday evening, we went to Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown for a campfire on the beach and to watch sunset over Cape Cod Bay. Since their website indicated that assistance with beach access would be available with some notice, I called and made arrangements for someone to assist me with a beach wheelchair. Unfortunately, there was a glitch in the communication between staff, so nothing was ready for us when we arrived. Once staff became aware of the need, they responded quickly to provide a beach chair. Again, unfortunately, the beach chair they brought did not have movable armrests. This made the prospect of transferring from my electric wheelchair to the beach wheelchair too daunting.
They did provide some kind of accommodation: they spoke louder than they otherwise would. Although we were at a bit of a distance from the campfire and the speaker, we’re able to hear their stories and view the campfire and watch the sunset from the back edge of the beach. It was a spectacular sunset! The best part was after the sun set: the afterglow was magnificent. At one point the lower part of the sky was a very hot cherry red, while an area above that looked a bit like orange sherbet.
While we were at Herring Cove Beach, we discovered a paved biking path at the north end of the beach. As we walked along this path, we were able to identify a number of plants, including Rosa Rugosa - a wild Rose with huge rose hips, Bayberry (maybe you have enjoyed the aroma of a Bayberry-scented candle), and beach plums (which make excellent jelly for your breakfast toast.)
Salt Pond Visitors Center
The next day, we visited the Salt Pond Visitor Center and were able to identify some paved bike trails that were wheelchair accessible. While we were at the Visitor Center, we took advantage of an opportunity to provide written feedback on our experience at Herring Cove Beach. We enjoyed hiking two bike trails that brought us into close contact with the Cape Cod coastal environment. There are fantastic views of salt Pond and the estuary/bay further out towards the horizon and two gardens of native plant materials to check out.
Bike Trail to Coast Guard Beach
We discovered a bicycle trail that went down to Coast Guard Beach on our first hike. The best part of this activity was having the opportunity to go across a salt marsh using a barrier free wooden boardwalk that brought us to Coast Guard Beach. The views of the salt marsh itself and views beyond that out to sea from the bridge were outstanding. While we were in the bridge over the salt marsh area we saw a Great Blue Heron looking for lunch in the salt marsh! What a treat!
I was able to get very close to Coast Guard Beach itself, because they had a set of mats over the beach sand that made it possible to traverse the beach sand. Using the mats, I was able to get close enough to see and hear the surf, but it would’ve taken an appropriate beach wheelchair and a couple of strong staff to help me traverse a very steep and cross-pitched section of the path to reach the main part of the beach. I was happy just being that close to the shore and the surf.
Later that same day, we drove up to Nauset Beach Lighthouse and were pleasantly surprised to find that there was an extensive wooden ramp that brought us pretty close to the beach. The last part of the beach access involve going down a steep flight of stairs, so that beach would not have been practical for someone with quadriplegic level of disability to access the beach itself, but it was still worth visiting for the views.
On our final vacation day, we visited Chatham Lighthouse and the adjacent ocean side beach. The views to the ocean from the sidewalk at Chatham Lighthouse were spectacular, partly because the street was 25+ feet higher than the beach, and the Ocean view was very extensive. We were able to enjoy looking at the different shades of blue and green that were reflected off the water.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
Our final stop in Chatham was at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. In their visitor center, we saw some excellent displays, learned about how important this refuge is to migratory birds along the eastern seaboard and discovered that a very small part of the hiking trails were wheelchair accessible. We're able to walk along a short, but wheelchair-accessible portion of the hiking trail adjacent to the visitor center. The trail led to an overlook that provided us the opportunity to see part of the wildlife refuge. It was worth stopping for this wonderful view of Monomoy Island.
Our final vacation sightseeing stop was in Yarmouth - a place called Gray’s Landing.
This landing is on the Bay side in Yarmouth. It features a barrier free boardwalk about one fourth mile long that runs out from shore into an extensive salt marsh. Although the boardwalk is a bit narrow, there is a wide area at the end of the boardwalk which is large enough to turn my wheelchair around and provides a lot of space for viewing different parts of the salt marsh.
The tide was coming in as we went along the boardwalk. We experienced a lot of marine life in the process. For example, at the end of the boardwalk, we were able to watch schools of very tiny fish making their way into a salt marsh along with one of their predators - a tern-(looking a bit like a seagull bout a lot smaller and a lot sleeker) diving repeatedly into the water to “grab a bite of dinner”. We also saw a Piping Plover - a shore bird that is on the endangered species list - hunt for his or her supper. Both of the salt marsh experiences that we enjoyed would be great places to just sit quietly and observe nature happen all around you - in the water of the salt marsh and in the air above the salt marsh.
If you enjoy hiking through different environments and observing nature, Cape Cod has an awful lot to offer. There are many other places we could have visited if we had enough time, but that’s another story for another vacation…