The Greatest Beach: A History of Cape Cod National Seashore
A volume in the series Designing the American Park
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, and 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 will be 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, FASLA, is professor of landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an international authority on America’s public landscapes. He is author of Wilderness by Design: Landscape Architecture and the National Park Service and Mission 66: Modernism and the National Park Dilemma, lead editor of Public Nature: Scenery, History, and Park Design, editor of volume 8 of the Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, and series editor of Designing the American Park (LALH).