Smith's Point-Esther's Island demands a one-track mind
Smith's Point, Esther's Island, Madaket, American beach grass, dunes
Beach grass is holding Smith's Point and its nipple, Esther's Island in place. Very soon, within five years I estimate, the ocean will overwash one or the other or both, cleaving the landmass from the main island once again. Certainly, the far end is well on its way to being severely denuded a lot sooner than later.
American beach grass, that amazing shoreline plant with its deep vertical and horizontal web of roots and rhizomes, thrives in the sandy soils, drawing its nutrients from the salt spray and ocean. It will hold this westermost estremity of Nantucket in place as long it can survive to do so, forming tall dunes that are nature's bulwarks against the marauding waves, incessant wind, sliding children and errant vehicles. But, unfortunately, it will hold Smith's Point/Esther's Island in place only as long as we allow it to.
Smith's Point is nearest to my heart as Coskata and the Squam Pond area are. It is the walker-accessible version of Great Point that unfortunately lacks the same level of protection and monitoring by its owners.
With the extreme erosion of Nantucket's South Shore exacerbated by rising sea level and seasonally, winter storms, vehicle access to the very end of this peninsula is open at low tide and closed mid-high to high tide. Unlike Great Point with its well established, clearly marked and symbolically fenced beach roads running only where property owners The Trustees of Reservations and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation wants beach drivers to go, it's a free for all west of Mr. Roger's summer neighborhood. Historically, to reach their properties, other than with their boats, the three beach cottage owners on Esther's Island have used one well-worn cut through the south side of the dunes to reach an old inside dune road that dead-ends at the last house closest to Madaket across the harbor. However, with narrowing of the peninsula as a whole, these cottage owners have just been driving over whatever dunes are necessary to get to their sand castles. And so has everyone else because new tire tracks into the dunes are an unofficial yet uninformed invitation. Once the beach grass is driven on, even only once, it can take years for the grass to grow the tire tracks invisible.
Exploration of the rest of Esther's Island this summer revealed new vehicle tracks all over the dune fields where they obviously aren't necessary. Although resilient in the face of towering waves and powerful wind, beach grass stalks, when crushed or snapped, wither as quickly as other plants do. For me, the constant hiker, what's happening on Smith's Point/Esther's Island is a tragedy that can be avoided if the town could work with the three cottage owners to establish one interior access road and close off all the others.
Right now, walking rather driving out to the end of Smith's Point is a much more interesting and satisfying experience, but I do understand the needs of surf fishers and those who can't make the long sand trek on foot to see the sunset. Still, driving over the dunes off of the established trail is only hastening the demise of this fragile, environmentally special part of Nantucket.
Take a hike out there sometime. I think you'll see what I'm talking about.