In April 2019 I began writing a monthly column for our local weekly newspaper, The Bourne Enterprise. They give me free rein on content, asking only that each piece be about the Town of Bourne. They actually pay me to do this – almost enough to tank up my old GMC Envoy.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise September 3, 2021)

Well, Henri was certainly a washout, quite literally for southwestern New England and parts of New York, but figuratively for Cape Cod. All of the frenzied preparations were not in vain, though. They were a dress rehearsal for the BIG ONE that is certain to hit us someday.

Nearly half of Bourne residents have never experienced a hurricane. Only a few are old enough to remember the 1938 storm. That hurricane washed away most of the houses on Taylor’s Point and many from Gray Gables. It flooded much of Main Street, five feet deep at the railroad station and the fire station.

The 1938 hurricane took the Cape by surprise. In the days before satellite images and computer models, meteorologists could only speculate on the potential path of such storms, and local officials had little warning or time to prepare. Many residents did not even know a storm was coming. Even today, the experts could not say with certainty where Henri would go, and were surprised when it suddenly turned west after making landfall, then made an abrupt U-turn.

Hurricanes like Ida that have hit southern states in recent years have been notably larger in area, slower-moving, and more devastating than any we have seen on the Cape. Warming of the ocean along the Atlantic coast, however, has increased the possibility of stronger storms coming this far north. The worst hurricane ever recorded to hit Cape Cod blew through on August 25, 1635. Historians have estimated it was a Category 4 storm that had sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, and a tsunami-like storm surge.

The worst case for Bourne would be a direct hit from a Category 4 or 5 storm. One computer model estimated that even a Category 3 storm, travelling northward at 60 miles per hour, could push a tidal surge into Buzzards Bay as high as 29 feet. That would pretty much wipe out our downtown between the canal and the bypass. For comparison, the surge in 1938 was 14 feet.

So, what can we do to avoid such devastation? Probably not much. While we can build levees and raise streets to adjust to rising sea levels, no amount of planning or mitigation can counter Mother Nature at her worst. The best action we can take in the face of such a disaster is to get out of the way. Then, after the wind dies down and the water recedes, rebuild on higher ground. The Buzzards Bay bypass might someday become the new Main Street.

In the meantime, we will do what we have always done. We will recognize that natural disasters are an aspect of our lives over which we have no control. We will focus instead on the years or decades between the storms, when we enjoy the benefits of living in such a wonderful place. We will bask on the beaches, bike along the canal, and participate in all the community events. But we will still closely monitor the weather, in case we have to quickly get out of the way.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise August 13, 2021)

At the beginning of the 20th century, my grandfather, Bert Ewell, bought a plot of land overlooking Hen Cove. Bert was a young bank clerk in Brockton who loved to get his toes in the mud and dig quahogs. Back then, low-lying waterfront property was plentiful and cheap. The wealthy folk preferred to build on higher bluffs with better views.

Bert would come down on the train every weekend from early spring until late fall. He cobbled together a crude lean-to with an outhouse from discarded building materials that washed up on the beach or that he salvaged from scrap yards. From his perch at the corner of Circuit Avenue and Saco, he could see huge seasonal mansions on Cedar Point and Scraggy Neck, but he had few other neighbors.

Over the years, Bert’s lean-to grew into a shack, then evolved into a cottage. Eventually, it got running water and a cesspool, then he added an enormous fireplace so he could use it year-round. He and Grandma Bertha (Dunbar) sold their Brockton house and retired to the cottage in 1942. Bert spent the next 26 summers reclining on a chaise on his sunporch, smoking his pipe, and watching the weather and everything else on Hen Cove.

Bert Ewell’s beach shack in 1905

By that time the neighborhood was completely built up with modest seasonal cottages that were kept in families for generations. There was a handful that were occupied year-round, but most were used only in the summer by middle-income families with young children. A neighborhood association owned most of the beach, but the town had a small area with a swimming float, as well as the pier that has been rebuilt many times.

Those days evoke wonderful memories for my brother and me, along with our cousins and friends that we grew up with from summer to summer. Our family had four houses clustered together with shared yards as if they were all one. Only one of those houses remains now, and it has been winterized and expanded beyond recognition. It recently sold for more than $600,000.

During the Cape-wide building boom of the 1970s, many of the cottages around Hen Cove were winterized and became retirement homes for my parent’s generation. Others were sold out of the families, as those of my generation became too busy with careers to be able to spend extensive time at a summer house. My mother sold our little cottage and bought a condominium at Lily Pond with the proceeds of the sale.

In recent years nearly all of the small seasonal cottages have been enlarged or replaced by much bigger structures. The middle-income families have been displaced by a new generation of more affluent owners who can afford the often seven-figure prices of even the smallest houses. The neighborhood is much quieter now, but the neighborhood association is still active.

Bert’s little house was torn down a century after it was first started. The new owners replaced it with a year-round retirement home, built to modern standards, that retained the basic floor plan and many of the quirky design elements of the old place. Our family considers it to be a fitting tribute to Grandpa Bert’s creativity and his love of this beautiful location.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise on July 9, 2021)

I was surprised to see a coastal cruise ship docked at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy last month. At first, I thought it might have encountered a problem and made an emergency stop. It turns out it was a planned stop to give passengers a tour of the campus and a chance to visit our newly revitalized downtown. What a great idea! Why haven’t we been doing this for years? How could we have overlooked such an easy opportunity to show off the wonderful assets Bourne has to offer?

According to Elizabeth Simmons, Vice-President of External Affairs at the academy, American Cruise Lines suggested the visit, and school administrators liked the idea. The cruise line employs academy graduates and hoped to recruit more with this stop. Unfortunately, most of the cadets were away on their annual sea term. This may be the first time a cruise ship has visited Buzzards Bay, but not the first time someone has suggested tapping the canal traffic for visitors.

Back in 2004, when Tom Moccia was leading the Buzzards Bay Revitalization Association, he invited architects and planners from around the world to submit ideas for redesign of the town park. As is typical for such a competition, the submissions were far more grandiose and expensive than the bandstand and splash pad we ended up with.

My favorite submission did more than create a fancy park. It connected the canal with a yacht basin for visiting pleasure vessels. Setting aside practical issues, such as nearly impossible permitting and outrageous costs, I liked the concept of inviting boaters using the canal to stop by and visit our downtown. I included the drawing from the competition into the transportation study that I prepared for Tom’s group in 2007.

Photograph of part of a design concept drawing submitted to the Buzzards Bay Revitalization Association in 2004

Inviting small coastal cruise ships to visit Buzzards Bay accomplishes the same purpose without a major capital investment. The academy reaps a public relations benefit, local businesses see a regular influx of visitors without adding vehicular traffic, and the ship passengers gain another point of interest. During last month’s stay, the cruise line offered excursions to Plymouth and Hyannis, as well as Main Street and the academy.

The Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce helped to coordinate this visit, providing brochures of local sites and businesses. They might consider scheduling special events such as Canal Day, a strawberry or scallop festival, craft fair, or art show at times that the ships visit. The Corps of Engineers could include tours of their facilities, including the train bridge, as they once did during the annual scallop festival. Main Street shops could coordinate sidewalk sales.

This visit was apparently a one-time event, but it shouldn’t take much arm-twisting to convince all those involved that making it a regularly scheduled stop would benefit everyone. Unlike the ocean-going cruise ships that can overwhelm small ports when they unload 6000 passengers, the coastal ships are much smaller. This one carried only 175 passengers. They might even enjoy a concert at the bandstand or a romp on the splash pad.


(Published on the obituary page of The Bourne Enterprise June 4, 2021)

On a sunny summer afternoon 30 years ago, I was sitting on my deck at Sea Watch with my friends Bill and Rita, who were visiting the Cape from their home in the Pacific Northwest. In the middle of a sentence, Bill suddenly stopped and said “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I just heard machine gun fire.” I assured him he wasn’t hearing things, and that those of us who lived here were used to the noise of machine guns and artillery.

Not long after that, the gun range was shut down because of the heavy metal pollution of the ground and the aquifer beneath it from the ammunition. The National Guard appears to have been doing fine without the benefit of the gun range for decades, but now seems determined to return to their old ways. Why do they need to bring the noise and pollution back to the Cape?

Despite their many disingenuous public hearings where they faced near-unanimous opposition, and leaning on a bogus environmental study that said only what they wanted to hear, it is clearly obvious the Guard is determined to reopen the range. Maybe it’s time for our state legislators to step in and stop this folly.

Bourne has changed significantly over the last 30 years, maturing from a mostly vacation and retirement place into a year-round community with a strong economic base that is less dependent than it had been on the military presence. The Coast Guard air station and housing are totally appropriate for this location, as is the Air Force cyber-security facility, but artillery and machine gun ranges don’t fit here anymore.

(Now, for those who are about to send me hate mail, I should mention that I am a Coast Guard veteran and hold a Class A Large Capacity license to carry. My father and grandfather were both expert marksmen. For me, this is a community planning issue, not a gun debate.)

It’s not common knowledge, but most of Joint Base Cape Cod belongs to the state and is leased to the federal government. Much of it was a state park before the military took over, and it will revert to parkland under a recent agreement when the military no longer needs it. This might be a good time for the state to take part of the base back. It would be well-used for hiking, camping, and most importantly, protection of the Cape’s sole-source aquifer.

An added benefit, and another thing that is not commonly known, is that the highest natural elevation on Cape Cod lies within the base about three-quarters of a mile from MacArthur Boulevard. The next time you are stuck in traffic coming on-Cape across the Bourne Bridge, look straight ahead at the horizon. You will see a little bump in the tree line that is Sand Hill, elevation 306 feet. If a 50-foot tower were erected on this spot, a person standing on top on a clear day could see nearly all of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands. And it would be a lot quieter than a machine gun range.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise May 9, 2021)

Are the Army Corps of Engineers and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) conspiring to keep us from driving? Probably not, but it sure seems like it. We finally got a breather after the Corps finished repairing the lights on the Sagamore Bridge, when they announced that they would immediately begin work on the Bourne Bridge. The Bourne Bridge is 1,000 feet longer than the Sagamore, and has almost twice as many lights, so it might be closed longer. With either bridge reduced to one lane in each direction, traffic seems to multiply on both Scenic Highway and Sandwich Road, increasing drive times even for drivers not crossing the bridges.

If you want to head south to Falmouth, you will find both overpasses at Brick Kiln Road reduced to one lane, as those bridges undergo major repairs. If you tried to avoid that bottleneck in April by using Route 28A, you might have run into another single-lane closure while National Grid installed a new gas line. Fortunately, that work is now done. To further aggravate the situation, Main Street in Falmouth was finally getting repaved after a winter of utility improvements.

Trying to get into and out of downtown Buzzards Bay remains a problem, as MassDOT continues building sidewalks to nowhere around Belmont Circle. Worse yet, this three-million-dollar boondoggle will do absolutely nothing to fix the very serious traffic issues around this rotary and the Route 25 interchange. For the same money, MassDOT could have widened the access ramps to two lanes and run traffic straight to Main Street and Scenic Highway. Now it will be many more years that nearly half the traffic heading south from Route 25 will have to go around the rotary to get to the Mid-Cape Highway.

For anyone living or working in Buzzards Bay, the situation is about to get a lot worse. MassDOT has already begun a five-year project completely reconstructing Cranberry Highway (Routes 6 and 28) between the Wareham town line at Cohasset Narrows and the traffic lights at Home Depot. Portions of this road will be completely closed in both direction for extended periods as this project proceeds. That will force traffic to use Route 25 for what might have been a local trip. At times it will significantly increase traffic on Head of the Bay Road.

Looking further ahead, at about the time that the Cranberry Highway project is done, the Army Corps and MassDOT will begin a genuine conspiracy, the BIG ONE: replacement of the canal bridges and reconfiguring the access roads around both. That work will make today’s delays seem like minor annoyances.

The good news, of course, is that when all this work is done, Bourne residents will have better roads and bridges, making it safer and mostly easier to get around. Belmont Circle will still be a bear, but that will primarily affect the traffic passing through town on its way to someplace else. We are also pretty resilient when it comes to traffic. We know better than to go anywhere on summer weekends, and we know how to get around the Cape without making any left turns.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise April 9, 2021)

For most of our residents and visitors, Bourne is defined by the canal, the military base, and the seasonal traffic passing through on its way to someplace else. Few would consider the railroad of importance, as all it serves now is a trash train, a seasonal weekend commuter service, and an occasional dinner train. There was a time, though, when Bourne was defined by the railroad.

The first trains rolled into the area that would later become Bourne in 1848. Crossing Cohasset Narrows where the tracks remain today, the rails ran along the Monument and Manomet Rivers to the Sandwich Glass Works. The railroad was promoted and partially financed by a group of Sandwich business owners to connect the town with the main line railroad in Middleborough.

Downtown Buzzards Bay did not exist until the railroad arrived. Before then, there was the state pier and a small cluster of houses on Head of the Bay Road, but not much else. The village grew around the railroad terminal and engine servicing facilities located where the town park is now. At that time, Bournedale was a significant manufacturing center that might have become the town center if construction of the canal hadn’t separated the village from its rail station.

Village centers in Pocasset and Cataumet also developed around the railroad stations on the Woods Hole branch. There was another station on Depot Road between Pocasset and Cataumet known as South Pocasset, but it did not last long. Pocasset center had been located on County Road near the intersection with Barlows Landing Road before the railroad came through and caused it to move a half-mile west.

The railroad breathed new life into the Keith Car Company just as demand for their Conestoga wagons was winding down. Keith soon became one of the country’s largest railroad car builders, extending for nearly a mile along the Manomet River in Sagamore. Much of the plant was demolished when the canal was built, but the company still managed to build thousands of freight cars that were shipped to France during the first world war.

The railroad was essential to military operations in Bourne during the first half of the twentieth century. Thousands of troops deploying for Europe arrived by train from all over the country. Camp Edwards became a major training center for National Guard units throughout the northeast. After Otis Air Base was built, and large transport planes developed, the railroad became less important. Rails still extend into Joint Base Cape Cod, but they are rarely used.

Bourne was also once served by a trolley line that connected it to New Bedford and Fall River. The tracks generally followed today’s Route 6 into Buzzards Bay, crossing the Monument River on Old Bridge Road, and continuing alongside Sandwich Road to County Road.

And finally, here is an obscure fact for the trivia buffs: The railroad bridge across the canal is the second longest vertical lift bridge in the country. A similar bridge in Staten Island, New York, is seven feet longer. While interstate trains may never return to Cape Cod, we might someday see daily commuter trains crossing our bridge once again.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise April 2, 2021)

We all love walking or biking along the canal service roads, and we champion the enthusiasts who are working to extend the Shining Sea Trail from North Falmouth to the canal. Only a few mountain bikers, however, seem to know that Bourne has another recreational path, better known as Valley Bars Road.

Valley Bars is a strange road. It seems to pop up in several places, heading to Monk’s Cove off Shore Road, serving a handful of houses off County Road, and going in two directions from different points on Clay Pond Road. Those disparate segments are actually connected, though, by unpaved paths through the woods.

Although it does not appear on old road maps, evidence on the ground indicates that Valley Bars Road may be an ancient way that once extended from the shore to a point well into what is now Brookside Village and possibly beyond. Where it meets the end of Shaker Drive, it apparently connected with another ancient way shown on some maps as Meganset Trail. These trails may have existed for hundreds of years, long predating the use of wheeled vehicles.

While the origin of Valley Bars Road is intriguing, its future might be more interesting. Most of the unimproved sections are on town property, except for a short piece at the northern end that crosses a wooded area belonging to Harbor Hill Condominiums. It would take relatively little money or effort to upgrade those sections into paved recreational trails that could serve walkers and other cyclists, as they do now for mountain bikers.

At the western end is Monk’s Park and Little Bay Trails, created in 1993 when the town bought an undeveloped subdivision overlooking Monk’s Cove, and the Bourne Conservation Trust acquired a large portion of the former Briarwood campground. This area has become a popular year-round spot for hikers and boaters. It is an especially good place from which to paddle or sail the protected water between Wing’s Neck, Pocasset River, Back River and Mashnee Island.

Once the Shining Sea Trail is extended from the canal, access from north and south by bicycle will be safe and easy. Getting there by bike from the east will not be as easy and certainly not safe. Biking on Barlows Landing Road, Clay Pond Road, Shore Road and County Road is not safe for casual riders. Improving Valley Bars Road as a bike trail would solve that problem.

Hundreds of residents in the neighborhoods off Clay Pond Road, along with hundreds more in Brookside and Harbor Hill, would then have safe and easy bike access to the shore. One or two short side trails across the town forest would open up similar access to residents of the neighborhoods off Barlows Landing Road.

When presented with this concept a couple of years ago, the town’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee found the idea interesting, but emphasized that their primary mission remains extending the rail trail. With the recent announcement of funding available for improving safety for cyclists and walkers under the state’s Complete Streets initiative, this project might be the perfect candidate for consideration.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise February 19, 2021)

In the midst of Bourne’s downtown is a hidden gem: The National Marine Life Center. From rather humble beginnings in an abandoned lumber yard, the center has emerged as an important player in the effort to rescue and rehabilitate stranded sea turtles, seals, dolphins, and other marine life. Our town owes a debt of thanks to two strong women who were instrumental in creating the center and guiding its growth into a nationally respected institution.

The center was originally conceived by Sallie Riggs while she was working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. After two earlier unsuccessful attempts to establish a marine hospital on Cape Cod, Sallie brought together veterinarian Joseph Geraci of Tufts University, retired investment banker Townsend Horner, and others, who incorporated the National Marine Life Center in 1995 as an independent, non-profit corporation.

Sallie immediately became deeply involved with the local business community and town government to build support for the new center. That involvement soon grew into a passion for revitalizing all of Main Street as Bourne’s downtown. Once she got the center established, Sallie turned over the leadership to others so that she could devote her time and effort to Main Street.

For several years after Sallie stepped down, the marine life center struggled to develop plans and programs, while focusing on fund-raising. In 2005, Kathy Zagzebski was brought in as the president and executive director. Kathy arrived with stellar academic credentials and broad experience in marine rescue operations in California, Hawaii, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Under Kathy’s leadership, the center has evolved into a nationally known and respected marine education, research and rescue operation. She assembled a strong support staff of experienced professionals, supplemented with ardent volunteers and enthusiastic student interns during the summer season. The center partners with related organizations all over the country to advance the science and coordinate rescue and release of stranded or injured marine animals.

While most of us have been hunkered down at home, the center staff have been busy. So far this winter season, the center has received and processed more than 216 cold-stunned sea turtles, seven times the typical number. They are also treating three seals, including Montauk, a harbor seal that has recently been deemed non-releasable after being rescued three times.

Like Sallie, Kathy also became quickly involved in the process of putting Buzzards Bay back on the map as a vital town center. She served on the boards of the Bourne Financial Development Corporation, the Main Street Steering Committee and the Selectmen’s Wastewater Advisory Committee. She also served on several regional non-profit boards, including the advisory committee of the Environmental Technology Program at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School.

After 16 years, Kathy has decided to move on. With luck and care, the center’s board of directors will find a new executive director who will bring to Buzzards Bay the best skills for the next stage of the center’s growth. It will not be an easy task to find somebody with the same quiet competence, technical knowledge, and extraordinary people skills as Kathy Zagzebski. We will miss her.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise January 8, 2021)

Recent posts on social media about a proposed wastewater outfall into the canal evoke images of huge volumes of brown sludge pouring into pristine waters. That is unfortunate, because the reality is that the proposed plan would benefit the entire Buzzards Bay watershed while greatly reducing pollution in many of its bays and inlets.

In brief, this proposal would create a regional wastewater district that includes Bourne, Marion, Wareham, Plymouth and the Maritime Academy. It is being driven by the region’s primary environmental organization, the Buzzards Bay Coalition. This is an unusual combination of players that has attracted support from both state and federal environmental protection agencies.

Bourne has a neighborhood of 850 houses on tiny lots with cesspools and septic systems that drain into Buttermilk Bay. Plymouth has a neighborhood of 450 houses on tiny lots south of Route 25 that also drains into Buttermilk Bay and is isolated from the town treatment plants. Wareham wants to expand sewer service to three mobile home parks and other neighborhoods. Marion and the academy have obsolete treatment facilities that need to be replaced soon.

Wareham’s wastewater treatment plant has been cited as the best-run in the state. It consistently produces an effluent that measures well below state limits for total nitrogen, the primary pollutant of salt water embayments. There is room on its site to double or triple the size of the Wareham facility but it cannot even operate at current capacity because it discharges into the Agawam River, which is little more than a creek at the discharge point.

If the Wareham plant could discharge into the canal, as the academy does now, there would be almost no limit on its expansion capacity. It could then treat the wastewater from Marion, the academy, and the currently unsewered neighborhoods in Wareham, Plymouth and Buzzards Bay. It will be an expensive project, but far less expensive than if each town and the academy had to build its own treatment plant.

This plan has been underway for seven years now. The coalition has received several substantial grants from the federal government to evaluate potential routes of an outfall pipe, and determine what effect an expanded outfall would have on water quality in the canal. It had to monitor existing conditions at the outfall location for two years before it could begin the permit process.

An evaluation of the proposed outfall conducted by a team of scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and UMass Dartmouth calculated that the canal flushes between 56 billion and 80 billion gallons of water a day. Then, through a series of computer model scenarios, the team concluded that even if the volume of effluent from the Wareham plant were quintupled to 10,000 gallons per day, it would have a negligible effect on water quality in the canal.

The primary advantage of a canal outfall is the high volume of water and its rapid movement that results in quick dilution and dispersion of the already highly treated effluent. With the proposed plan being initiated and managed by the Buzzards Bay Coalition, we can be confident that all potential environmental threats of the outfall will be thoroughly addressed. This is literally a win/win solution to a serious problem for all involved.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise December 11, 2020)

This has certainly been an interesting year. It wasn’t all bad, though. Bourne got a new police station, and the adjacent downtown wastewater treatment facility is finally under construction. Looking back, we should give credit to a few people in Bourne who met the challenges of this year head-on and succeeded. We also should mention a few blunders that deserve a loud rant.

The biggest rave goes to the doctors, nurses, and attendants working under incredible stress and personal risk during the viral pandemic. That includes our first responders, who risk their lives every day to keep Bourne residents safe and secure. Special recognition goes to the EMTs who have to share an ambulance with Coronavirus patients.

A corresponding rant goes to the mostly young folk who continue to party on and gather without masks or social distancing, endangering their elderly relatives and neighbors. They don’t seem to understand that this is not a matter of personal freedom or inconvenience, but a serious public health crisis that is killing more people every day in this country than died in the 9/11 attack.

The biggest rant goes to the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT). It is about to spend more than $3 million building sidewalks to nowhere around Belmont Circle without solving any of the traffic problems that plague that area. As a result, we can expect it will be many more years before we see efficient connections between Route 25, Scenic Highway, and Main Street.

There was some good news at the other end of Main Street, though. Here is a rave for Vincent and Noreen Michienzi, who have invested heavily in improvements to their properties facing the newly upgraded town park. And here’s a shoutout to Tom Cahir, Administrator of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, who continues to expand bus service to his home town.

A big rave goes to Town Clerk Barry Johnson and his dedicated assistants who successfully managed three elections that were safe, efficient, and convenient. We might also congratulate two other town officials, Town Administrator Anthony Schiavi and Superintendent of Schools Kerri Anne Quinlan-Zhou. Both stepped into new positions and were quickly hit with what must be the greatest challenge of their careers.

MassDOT gets another rant, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, for failing to choose the most obvious solution to the canal bridge issue. A straight connection along the route of the power lines between Route 25 and the Mid-Cape Highway, with a high-level bridge across the canal, would take half the traffic off of the old bridges, Sandwich Road, and Scenic Highway. That would allow us to keep our iconic iron bridges and topiary Cape Cod welcome sign.

Finally, here’s a toast to a new year that promises to be a lot less interesting, but certainly more enjoyable. It looks like the virus will soon be contained, allowing us to return to a more normal life. Schools should be able to reopen, and the theaters and restaurants that survive the winter should be back for the summer season. We might even be able to hike or bike the canal paths without wearing masks, and once again enjoy a real Fourth of July parade.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise November 13, 2020)

Seeing photos of St. Peter’s church sitting on a barge in the canal evoked memories of my grandfather Bert Ewell being excited about watching it being trundled over to its new home on Main Street. The sanctuary was moved by barge from Hull 74 years ago. While this move by water was unusual, Bourne has a long history of having its buildings moved about.

The school department’s office building in Bourne village started out as Monument Academy, built in 1840 at Monument Hill on County Road. It was moved to Sandwich Road in 1866, where the library is now, then to its current location when the library was built in 1925. The first-floor was for middle grades, while high school students used the second-floor.

The neighboring 1888 Alonzo Booth blacksmith shop sat at the edge of Shore Road at the corner of Olde Forge Lane. It was moved to its current location and restored in 1998. The Bourne Post Office was originally part of the Blackington house, located near the wooden bridge that spanned the Monument River. It was relocated when the canal was built in 1913.

The commercial building at 2 Shore Road was also moved when it was displaced by the canal construction. According to the Bourne Historical Society, this building once housed the George Douglas grocery store, and continued to conduct business as it was being moved, pulled on skids by horses and oxen.

The windmill at the Aptucxet Museum came from actor Joseph Jefferson’s estate, Crow’s Nest, overlooking Buttermilk Bay. It was never a real windmill, but was built as Jefferson’s art studio. It continues in that role, now used by artist Lance Shinkle, who created the pedal-powered carousel that is displayed in the lower level and open to the public during the summer months.

Bourne has another historic windmill, on Shore Road in Cataumet, that may hold a record for the longest move. It was originally built in Chatham, moved to Orleans, and in 1900 moved to Cataumet, where it is now a dwelling. President Grover Cleveland’s private railroad station was recently relocated and restored after sitting near the Aptucxet trading post for decades. It was originally situated at the intersection of Thorne and Monument Neck Roads in Gray Gables.

In Pocasset, the soon to be replaced fire station displaced a smaller station that still exists. The old station was moved to the back of the ball field and has served ever since as a welding shop. The cabinet shop across the street was moved from County Road, where it was a school. The nearby Baptist Church had a very short move back from the road onto a new foundation.

The strangest move of all, though, has to be the Bourne Water District office on Barlow’s Landing Road. It still sits on its original site, where it was a Methodist church. It was cut in half laterally, with the top half set on a new foundation in front of the bottom half, which had a new roof added. That explains the stained-glass window on the front. The gilded faucet above the window is a story for another day.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise October 23, 2020)

Bourne is a town rich in post offices. We have eight of them if you include the military base. But that might change soon. The Postal Service won’t be shut down; that would take a constitutional amendment, and the service is too well-liked by everyone for that to happen. Its operations could be contracted to a private company, however, and probably will be restructured to adapt to changes in the way we communicate.

Those of us of a certain age can remember when a sharply uniformed mailman came to our door twice a day, carrying a huge leather bag full of letters, postcards, bills, catalogs and magazines. There were lots of magazines, many of them weeklies. There was Time, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post. Dad got Popular Science and National Geographic; Mom got the Ladies Home Journal, Better Homes & Gardens, and Good Housekeeping.

Things are different now. We get our news and magazines electronically. We shop on-line. We get our bills by email and pay them electronically. We send greetings, congratulations and invitations on social media platforms. Much of what we get in the mail now is advertising and packages. Most of the letters are from charities and organizations looking for donations.

When was the last time you had to wait in line at the post office? How often have you had to ring a bell to get served at the counter? The need for some basic restructuring is apparent; the bigger question is how it should be done. The challenge is to make the operation more cost-effective and efficient without losing the convenience of an important public service.

For an idea of how a privatized post office might operate, we only have to look at the competing private delivery services, UPS, DHL and FEDEX. They have central depots serving multiple towns or larger regions. Franchised storefronts offer packing and shipping options. Some even have post office boxes for document mail. Nearly all customer services are conducted on-line, with delivery drivers picking up outgoing parcels and letters. The postal service does that too, but few people know about that service.

Changes of this magnitude would have a profound effect on Bourne. We might retain a central office in Buzzards Bay, and the base facility would certainly remain, but the others would likely close. The result would hurt Bourne’s retired population the most. Many of our older residents are not computer savvy or able to get to a post office in another part of town. They still pay their bills by mail and like to buy their stamps in person. Some prefer having post office boxes.

More importantly, Bourne’s post offices anchor our villages. They are where we run into friends and neighbors for impromptu chats. They draw us to village centers where we are more likely to shop at neighborhood stores. They give each of our villages a focal point and individual identity. They keep us connected in a way that may no longer be essential, but remains important to every one of us. Like so many other aspects of our lives, though, we will adapt to the inevitable changes we see coming.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise September 18, 2020)

Mayflower Passage

After a summer of solitary sports and family activities, Bourne finally came out for a safe and most enjoyable community celebration. That was the day the Mayflower replica sailed through the canal on its way back to Plymouth. Thousands of Bourne residents and visitors gathered along the service roads and in neighboring yards and balconies on a gloriously sunny day.

We couldn’t have a Fourth of July parade this year, the county fair was cancelled, and the scallop fest is long gone. Traditional neighborhood picnics and ball games could not be held lest they turn into virus super-spreaders. The crowd watching the Mayflower, though, showed a remarkable level of compliance with safety standards. Nearly everyone sported masks and kept a reasonable distance from each other.

The rest of the summer was not bad either. Traffic was high, but more spread out. Because so many people were laid off, furloughed, or working remotely, seasonal residents and visitors arrived earlier, stayed longer, and left later, resulting in less congestion at the bridges at peak times. Surprisingly, our beaches were not over-crowded, but the marinas and boat ramps were extremely busy. Bourne’s paddle shops quickly sold out of kayaks and paddleboards.

The canal service roads and the Cape’s bike paths saw much higher than normal use all summer. Bicycle sales nearly doubled worldwide during the pandemic shut-down, leaving retailers and wholesalers without inventory even before the summer began. Other retailers have struggled to make up for lost revenue during the shut-down; a reminder that we need to make an extra effort to support our local business owners as the season winds down.

Most of Bourne’s restaurants managed to stay open, while six out of ten nationwide permanently closed. Whether they can survive a continued limitation on occupancy only time will tell. The experts are saying it could be another six months to a year or more before the virus is contained and it becomes safe for bars to open and restaurants to reach full capacity.

So, what are the takeaways from this very different summer? First, that it wasn’t so different after all. Cape Cod had the potential to be a viral disaster, with so many visitors coming here from New York, New Jersey, Florida, and other hot spots.  Second, that we may never return to the old normal. And third, that maybe the new normal will in some ways be better than before.

Many businesses have found that trusted employees are more productive working from home. And those employees now have more free time and money that was once wasted on a daily commute. That means more seasonal residents working remotely will choose to live in Bourne full-time. Similarly, more colleges will be offering on-line courses at reduced prices from traditional on-campus experiences. We don’t know yet how elementary and high-schools will change, but will soon find out.

This is the time of year when many columnists speculate on what the fall and winter will bring. Let’s see, we have hurricane season, a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, a changing climate, and a contentious election. My crystal ball just melted.


(Published on the editorial page of The Bourne Enterprise August 4, 2020)

Wes at Mo Beach

During this time of social distancing and solitary pursuits, paddling a canoe or kayak offers a chance for both exercise and quiet meditation. Gliding silently up to a flock of egrets in Back River, watching blue crabs scurry on the bottom of Eel Pond, or poking into areas where bigger boats cannot go, are all wonderfully enjoyable experiences.

There are few places anywhere that can beat Bourne for kayaking. The Buzzards Bay coast from Buttermilk Bay to Squeeteague Harbor offers paddlers a dozen gorgeous and protected bays, coves, rivers, and estuaries. The only place to avoid is the canal. It’s illegal and dangerous to paddle in or close to there.

The best access to Buttermilk Bay is the end of Electric Avenue. There are other access points but parking is limited. Launching is officially banned from all town beaches, but you can usually get away with it at off-peak times if you stay on the edges and away from swimmers.

For the area between Mashnee Island and Wings Neck, launch from the little beach next to the boat ramp at Monument Beach marina. From there you can paddle up into Back River, stop for a swim on the Mashnee dike beach, or duck under the Emmons Road bridge into Little Bay. There is a great spot for a picnic lunch on Tobey’s Island, then paddle over to the Pocasset River.

You will need a Bourne parking permit to park and launch at any town landing. If you don’t have a permit, you can launch at Monk’s Cove. Non-permit parking is available along the road east of the railroad overpass. Monk’s is also a good place to launch when the Monument Beach lot is full. The ramp there is not paved, and the water is shallow, so it is rarely used for larger boats and there is usually ample parking.

Between Wings Neck and Scraggy Neck are the cloverleaf harbors of Barlows Landing, Hen Cove, and Redbrook Harbor. In the middle is Bassett’s Island, which makes a great stop for a picnic and a swim. Most of the island is privately owned, but the sandy southern leg is town-owned and open to the public. Launch from Barlows Landing or Hen Cove.

Throughout all these areas you will find rock hazards. The glacier that formed Cape Cod left many boulders along the coast, and too many of them lurk near the surface. There are even some in the middle of bays where you would least expect them. Before you paddle, look over the area at low tide to get an idea where the rocks are.

And please remember that kayaks are not toys; they are vessels subject to the same marine rules as bigger boats. Be especially cautious in busy channels and harbors. Not only do other boats have the right of way, sailors and motor boaters often don’t see you down there between the waves. Most importantly, always wear a flotation vest that fits your size and weight.

One last caution: the narrow channels leading into Buttermilk Bay at Cohasset Narrows, Back River, Eel Pond, and the upper portion of the Pocasset River flow fast between tides. Try to hit those areas at slack tides. But don’t let these warnings deter you; kayaking is a wonderful, low-impact sport that provides excellent cardio-vascular exercise, can be enjoyed at any age, and keeps you a safe distance from everyone else.


(Published on the Editorial Page of The Bourne Enterprise July 10, 2020)

Monk’s Cove as seen from the railroad and someday bike trail

On a sunny Saturday in mid-June traffic was gridlocked, not at the bridge but on the bike trail in Falmouth. The parking lots were full, all the benches along the way were occupied, and traffic was so heavy in spots that it stopped. With many other outdoor activities closed by the pandemic, walking and biking trails across the country have seen a doubling or tripling of traffic.

The Shining Sea Trail in Falmouth is one of the most scenic recreational trails in the country. It has been featured in national magazines and is a major tourist attraction. Trail users generate an estimated four to five million dollars a year in economic activity in Falmouth, based upon surveys of similar trails by the national non-profit Rails to Trails Conservancy.

The rail corridor through Bourne is even more scenic and inviting than the Falmouth trail, and someday it too will be a recreational trail generating similar economic activity for our town. The Friends of the Bourne Rail Trail has been enthusiastically promoting extension of the Shining Sea Trail through Bourne to the Canal, working with town officials to make it happen.

With seed money appropriated by Town Meeting, and federal and state grants, as well as a grant from the Conservancy, the town has contracted with engineers to design the first section of the trail extension. That plan is for a paved trail alongside the tracks from the canal to Gray Gables. The second section is in early planning stages to extend the trail into Monument Beach. Falmouth is working to bring its trail up to Cataumet.

The plan is to keep the tracks in place and build the trail alongside the rails. That will quadruple the cost over removing the rails to build the trail, and result in a far less inviting trail experience. It will allow the plan to proceed, however. The state is currently spending $3 million to upgrade the tracks, which now serve only a private trash hauler and an occasional dinner train.

There are substantial roadblocks to removing the rails, despite their light use. The military wants to keep the rails in place to serve Joint Base Cape Cod, although they rarely use the railroad. The Town of Falmouth wants to extend commuter rail service to North Falmouth. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has conflicting mandates to preserve and expand rail service while also promoting expansion of recreational trails.

The Cape Cod Commission’s Regional Policy Plan envisions a trail system covering the Cape from Woods Hole to Provincetown, including the connection between Falmouth and the canal. Bourne’s Local Comprehensive Plan states that extending the Shining Sea Trail “…would open some of the most scenic portions of the town’s coastline to public access without the need for expanded parking areas or roads.”

Whether we have a rail trail or a trail with rail, connecting the Shining Sea Trail to the canal will benefit Bourne enormously, not only generating economic activity and raising abutting property values, but also providing pedestrian and bicycle connections among all of Bourne’s villages, increasing public safety by offering a safe alternative to biking on County and Shore Roads, and closing a major gap in the regional trail system. Some of us can’t wait to see it happen.


(Published on the Editorial Page of The Bourne Enterprise June 5, 2020)

One spring day in 2001 I was walking down Water Street in Woods Hole with a local builder named Tom. As we approached the drawbridge, Tom stopped and pointed to the quaint little restaurant overlooking the canal connecting the pond to the channel. He told me he had rebuilt that structure to its current configuration.

He said the owner had asked him to make it look like it had been 50 years earlier. Tom then pulled a picture postcard out of his pocket that showed what that building looked like in 1950. Its first floor was completely clad in porcelain-glazed steel panels advertising Coca-Cola.

Tom said when he showed the owner that photo, she was appalled. He assured her, however, that he knew what she wanted. So, he told me, he refinished her building to be “how she wished it had looked 50 years ago.”

I love that phrase, and have often used it in my work as a community planner. Even today, as our world is turning topsy-turvy, there are many people in Bourne who desperately want to return to the way they wish our town had been 50—or even 100—years ago.

They want Buzzards Bay to be a quaint little Cape Cod village, although it never was. For a brief period between the end of the second World War and construction of the by-pass, Buzzards Bay was somewhat of a normal downtown, even though it was hopelessly clogged with traffic passing through to somewhere else during the summer season.

Buzzards Bay village didn’t exist at all until the railroad arrived in the mid-1800s. The bars and flophouses that served the railroaders later evolved to serve soldiers on liberty until after the war, when hundreds of little houses were built around its center for military retirees and young families moving out of the cities.

Now, after two decades of hard work by a dedicated cadre of community volunteers, Buzzards Bay is emerging as a true downtown. The momentum is there for the village to be not what we wish it had been 50 years ago, but what we want it to be now: an active town center where residents live, work, shop, and play without having to go somewhere else.

The viral pandemic, and the looming economic recession resulting from it, may delay our march toward this goal. We need to be careful, though, not to further cripple progress by undermining or turning back key elements of our plan. The movement to withdraw Bourne from membership in the MBTA, for example, seems extremely short-sighted.

Town meeting changed Main Street zoning to allow mid-rise multi-use buildings. Voters appropriated funds to expand wastewater capacity that will enable new development downtown. And they chose to join the MBTA as a key future connection to the Boston metropolitan area.

We must persist in our effort to bring commuter rail to Bourne so that future generations can enjoy the sort of vibrant community that we envision. If we don’t, our grandchildren might still be struggling to make something of Buzzards Bay and wanting it to be what they wish it had been 50 years earlier.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise May 22, 2020)

What will the summer of 2020 be like in Bourne? Life has taken so many strange twists and turns this year, any prediction is only speculation, but here is mine. I think that Bourne will have a very good season, with more people, more traffic, and many local businesses doing well.

It won’t be a typical summer, though, as our favorite group activities won’t happen. There will be no county fair, no scallop fest, no Fourth of July parade, no Cape Baseball League, and no summer theater.

There will be family gatherings, backyard barbeques, boating, fishing, bicycling, and golf for those who are willing to walk the course. Expect beaches and marinas to remain open, but with strict enforcement of social distancing and safety measures, including limited access.

Bourne’s population usually doubles in July and August. And while we traditionally refer to the summer visitors as tourists, the vast majority of our summer residents are second home owners or renters. We don’t see as many day-trippers and weekenders as some other Cape towns, except for friends and family members.

With the schools closed and more people working remotely or not at all, the summer folk are already arriving earlier and likely to stay longer. There will be less commuting between the Cape house and the city, but still plenty of summer traffic. If we need to isolate, what better place to do it than Bourne?

We are likely to see some easing of restrictions on small retail and service businesses, with a new emphasis on curb-side service and continued limits on the number of customers allowed inside at any time. Expect to see strange mask-like tan lines on a lot of people this year.

Restaurants that can accommodate drive-through pick-up will be busy, but those that rely on bar patronage will continue to suffer. The pandemic has fundamentally changed the food service industry, and this will be a summer of adjustment for everyone in the business.

Traditional gatherings for church services, weddings, and funerals will most likely continue to be limited at least through the summer. Some will be conducted remotely, but many will be postponed by as much as a year.

Those of us old enough to remember summers in Bourne in the middle of the last century might see familiar patterns. Families staying close to home, enjoying the sunshine and cooking out on the deck, sailing out to Bassett’s for a picnic on the beach, or walking along the canal in the evening. Of course, back then we didn’t have the internet, Netflix, or Hulu. The kids will remain glued to their devices no matter where they are staying.

For a very important group of Bourne residents not much will change. Those working in health care, police, fire protection, emergency services, and grocery stores will continue to be stressed beyond reason. This pandemic has given all of us a new appreciation of the wonderfully dedicated people who provide our essential services and will have no vacation this year. Give them a break, help them when you can, and be generous with your smiles and tips.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise on May 8, 2020)

Our little town is usually seen as a quiet seaside community that a lot of people drive through going someplace else. It wasn’t always like that, however. For more than a century, beginning in the 1820s, the area that is now Bourne and Sandwich was a major industrial center shipping manufactured goods all over the world.

It started in 1821 when the Bournedale Iron Works began business. A year later the Pocasset Iron Company was established at the head of the Pocasset River on County Road. In 1825 the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company began making decorative glass products, and in 1826 the Keith and Ryder wagon company began building farm wagons and prairie schooners for sale to pioneering families that were moving west to open new frontiers.

This 1850 photograph from the Bourne Historical Archives shows the Tahanto Iron Company looking northwest from County Road a short distance north of Barlows Landing Road.

With the arrival of the railroad in 1847, the area’s industrial development turned serious. The Pocasset Iron Company became the Tahanto Iron Company and expanded into a large factory that dominated the local landscape. The last structure of that complex washed away in the 1938 hurricane, but you can still see remnants of the bog iron quarries and water works that supplied this industrial center throughout the Four Ponds Conservation Area off Barlows Landing Road.

Keith and Ryder moved from South Sandwich to Sagamore and began building railroad cars under the name of Keith Car and Manufacturing Company. By the turn of the twentieth century, Keith had become a major manufacturer of railroad freight cars, its factory complex extending two miles along the Scusset River. Hundreds of Keith cars were shipped to Europe to support allied efforts during World War I. The Bournedale Iron Works grew too, as the primary supplier of iron fittings for the Keith cars.

Keith Car Company

This photo of the Keith factory looking northeast was taken near the current location of Atlantic Engineering. All the buildings on the left were displaced when the canal was enlarged in the 1930s.

The Sandwich glass works was located on the Cape for the abundant forests that would fuel its furnaces and refractories. By the time Bourne split from Sandwich in 1884, however, the upper Cape and Plymouth area had been stripped of most of its trees. Turpentine Road, which is now located within Joint Base Cape Cod, was named for a factory that produced turpentine and pine tar products for shipbuilding. This company began operations in 1850 but disappeared along with the trees by 1900.

Local officials welcomed construction of the Cape Cod Canal in 1914 as a catalyst for new industrial development. While opening of the canal was undoubtedly the most significant event in Bourne’s history, it turned out to be a very different asset to the town than its promoters envisioned. The canal not only failed to bring new industry to Bourne, but it also cut through the middle of the Keith factory complex.

Bourne’s industrial age ended with the Great Depression in the 1930s. Recent years, though, have seen the emergence of a different kind of industry: development and manufacture of deep-water submersible vehicles by Hydroid and specialized electronic devices by Onset Computer. As other high-tech firms split off from the research institutions in Woods Hole and set up shop in Bourne’s industrial parks, our town’s industries are once again shipping goods all over the world.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise on April 24, 2020)

Walking in the woods is still allowed under social distancing, and Bourne offers lots of choices of where to do it. Between town-owned conservation areas and lands of the Bourne Conservation Trust, we have many miles of well-marked and maintained trails.
Aside from the canal service roads, the most popular walk in Bourne is probably the town-owned Four Ponds Conservation Area. This extensive tract borders the town forest and provides several miles of trails. Access is off Barlow’s Landing Road opposite the mobile home park. Take a compass with you if you’re not familiar with the trails.

One of my favorites is the Bourne Sisters Woodland and Perry Woods. This area offers more than a mile and a half of scenic trails across both town and Trust lands. Its only public entry is easy to miss, located on the S-curve at 221 County Road. Park just off the road and follow the trail signs. There is also a private bridge connecting this parcel with Brookside.

The flooded cranberry bog at Bourne Sisters. That’s Brookside on the opposite shore.

If you want a shorter but even more scenic walk, the Leary property is immediately across the street from the Bourne Sisters entrance. This town-owned promontory offers panoramic views of the upper reaches of Back River not publicly visible from anywhere else. The trail is only about a quarter mile long, not including several small side trails, and there is a loop driveway for parking at the entrance.

The end of the Leary Property trail overlooking Back River

Another popular hiking spot over both town and Trust lands can be found at Monk’s Park off Shore Road in Monument Beach. Park next to the railroad bridge on Valley Bars Road, or at the east entrance to the Little Bay Trails on Shore Road. Plan to rest your feet at the benches and chairs overlooking Little Bay and Monk’s Cove.

All of these trails have portions that are quite steep. For those of us of a certain age, a sturdy walking stick is a big help, not just for support but mostly for balance. It’s also handy for brushing aside leaves and pine needles that can prove slippery on slopes.
The Trust owns another large tract with trails in the Cataumet area. The Cataumet Greenway trails cover much of the land between Depot Street and Redbrook Harbor Road. Although there are several access points, the easiest are from the Cataumet Post Office parking lot and the Dimmick Waterfront Park on Redbrook Harbor Road.

Just north of Redbrook Pond, at the top of the hill on Shore Road, you will find the Redbrook Pond trails, another Trust property. Park at the entrance to Thaxter Road. The main loop is about a mile, but there are intermediate trails to shorten the walk. As with all Trust properties, the trails are well marked and maintained. This one offers grand views of Redbrook Pond and several cranberry bogs.

You can view and download maps of all of the Bourne Conservation Trust properties and trails at its website, Wherever you choose to walk, please keep your dogs on leashes, pick up their poop and any trash you see on the trails, and enjoy the freedom of a safe outdoor experience close to home.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise on February 7, 2020)

Have you ever driven County Road and wondered why it turns and winds around so much? It has been realigned and relocated in places over the years, but remains one of the crookedest roads in Bourne. Not far from its southern end in Cataumet, County Road makes an unexpected turn so sharp that it has probably seen more single-car accidents than any other spot in town.

It then meanders past the old Cataumet school house and several 18th century homes, and through farms and cranberry bogs, before hitting a rare straight stretch near the county complex. It wasn’t always this straight here, but once ducked down to touch the shore of the old Flax Pond, now called Picture Lake. Maybe the road got its name from the county facilities, as it is not actually a county road, but is maintained by the town.

Just past the lights at Barlows Landing Road, County Road dips down between two of the four ponds in the town conservation area, then abruptly climbs again. The crest of this climb was once much sharper than it is now. Driving from the north in his 1947 Plymouth, my father would often speed up over this crest, thrilling my brother and me with the feeling that we had gone airborne.

Two hundred years ago, this was the center of Pocasset, with a school and a church, all within walking distance of the Pocasset Iron Company, a major factory that shipped cast iron pots, stoves, and utensils all over the world. The school building still exists, but was moved to a spot across the street from the Pocasset fire station. The church also exists today, cut in half with its top half moved in front of the rear and now housing the Bourne Water District offices. There is nothing left of the iron works, except for the ponds and dams that were essential to its operations.

Continuing north, County Road winds between and among some of the oldest houses in Bourne, before reaching its northern end at its intersection with Shore Road and Sandwich Road. So, how did County Road get to be so winding? Clearly it was not planned or laid out by a surveyor or civil engineer. More likely, it simply followed a path of least resistance by people travelling on foot with cattle and other livestock.

The origins of County Road predate any written historical records. It appears on a 1626 map of the area, along with Sandwich Road and Turpentine Road, which is now located entirely within the military base. Most likely County Road was originally a trail used by the indigenous people of the area to travel between their inland winter hunting grounds and their coastal summer fishing encampments.

County Road may have existed for thousands of years before my ancestors invaded the region in the early 1600s, and long before there was any need for travel fast enough to require a straighter and more level thoroughfare. Today it remains an important route connecting four of Bourne’s villages. It might also be considered an historic trail, evoking images of our town’s changing demographics and character over the last four centuries.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise January 10, 2020)

If we can turn our attention away from the turmoil in our nation’s capital for a moment and look at what has been happening in our town, we will see that 2019 was a very good year for Bourne. Main Street in Buzzards Bay has finally reemerged as a thriving downtown, new locally-owned businesses have opened, we have a new town administrator, and town finances are strong.

Our downtown district still has a way to go to fulfill its potential, but it has turned the corner and is not likely to slide back now. A 20-year effort by town officials, property owners, and a dedicated corps of volunteers is finally beginning to show positive results. Most of the rundown buildings have been demolished and others rebuilt to host new shops and restaurants.

Opening of the new Hampton Inn is a key element of the downtown renewal. The town park has been repaired and continues to be a popular venue for community events and family recreation. Construction of the long-awaited wastewater treatment plant appears imminent, and the new police station will strengthen the town center image of Buzzards Bay.

All of these actions were envisioned in Bourne’s 2007 Local Comprehensive Plan. That plan has now been revised and updated, and was certified by the Cape Cod Commission in December. It continues to lay out a solid vision for Bourne as a town of village centers with an economy based largely on education, ocean-related businesses, and recreation.

So, what might 2020 bring to Bourne? Certainly, replacement of the canal bridges will be a major topic of discussion and planning. The Army Corps of Engineers is wrapping up a five-year feasibility study and is expected to publish its final report soon. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is finalizing a 12-year study of canal region traffic that will need to be coordinated with the Corps’ plans.

There have been statements reported that we might see new bridges within five years. As someone who has managed major projects jointly with both MassDOT and the Corps, I can assure you that it will take much longer. Within that five-year time frame, we should expect to see a program that sets design parameters for the bridges and the roads leading to them. Funding sources will be identified, and initial design and permitting appropriations will be made.

The following five to ten years will include land takings and resulting legal proceedings. During that time economic feasibility studies and environmental impact reports will be prepared for each element of the project. Each element will also go through multiple federal, state, and local permitting processes. After final engineering design, financing, and contract bidding, construction is likely to take at least five years.

In short, most of us who are past retirement age are not likely to see the new bridges completed in our lifetimes. In the meantime, watch for more new businesses to open in Buzzards Bay, as well as continued improvements in rail and bus service in Bourne, eventually including daily commuter trains. And be sure to frequent our burgeoning downtown to patronize both the new and the long-established businesses along Main Street.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise December 13, 2019)

Recent discussions about whether Bourne should remain a member of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, better known as the MBTA or just the “T”, seem to be missing the big picture. As the former chairman of the town’s Transportation Advisory Committee at the time when Bourne voted to join the T, I would like to offer another way to look at the issue.

First, it’s not about the cost. Some confusing and misinterpreted numbers have been thrown around, but the actual annual net cost to the town of T membership has been about $40,000. And the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority is using that money to expand bus service in Buzzards Bay. In short, we are getting good value for our public transit assessment.

Second, it’s not entirely about the need to provide more convenient train service for current commuters to Boston. For those of us who have been working diligently to revitalize Bourne’s downtown, extending service to Buzzards Bay is all about bringing new life to Main Street. Take a look at what happened in Lakeville. Within a quarter mile of the station the neighborhood is built out with apartments, condominiums, offices, banks, restaurants, and other services.

That housing is occupied predominantly by young single or coupled urban workers who cannot afford to live in the metropolitan area but prefer the ease and reliability of the train to the nightmare of driving to Boston. This demographic spends much of their money locally, but imposes few demands on municipal services.

Bourne’s Main Street has turned the corner and is now a busy place once again. Anchored by the Maritime Academy at one end and the town hall and community center at the other, our downtown will continue to thrive with or without the T. Bringing in commuter rail, however, will transform the village.

When Bourne voted to join the T, we were reliably promised that service would begin within a year. At the same time the Authority began a major reorganization and capital program to repair decades of deferred maintenance and poor management. It kept its commitment to extend the Green Line to Medford, and elected to upgrade the old Fall River branch to bring commuter rail to the South Coast. The extension to Buzzards Bay got deferred.

Perhaps it’s a blessing that the T has temporarily set aside its expansion plan. While Bourne has made great strides revitalizing its downtown, changing the zoning to encourage smart growth and investing in streetscape improvements, the utility infrastructure is not yet ready to service the kind of growth that the T would bring. We need a few more years to fix that situation.

There is no reason to bail out now, though. The Baker/Polito administration strongly supports commuter rail and has been very supportive of our efforts to create a vibrant community in Buzzards Bay. We will eventually get commuter rail service if we hang in there; we will not get it if we leave now. It’s not just about the train service; it’s about an investment in the future of our downtown.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise November 8, 2019)

During this month of Thanksgiving we might reflect on why we are thankful to live in Bourne. Sometimes it seems we are so focused on summer traffic and limited employment opportunities that we forget how blessed we are to live year-round in a place where others spend thousands of dollars to visit for a week or two.

As summers have become hotter, our best weather now comes in the spring and fall when many of the visitors are not here. That is the time we most enjoy our gardens, our parks, and our many festivals. The water is still warm enough for swimming in the fall when the beaches are empty.

There are very few towns on the New England coast that have such perfect protected coves and estuaries for kayaking, canoeing, sailing and fishing. Nowhere else can match the fishing on the canal or walking and cycling on its service roads. And we can enjoy those activities well into the fall, as winter weather tends to arrive later here than it does inland.

Our usual complaints about summer traffic, shortage of well-paying jobs, and high cost of living don’t stand up to comparisons with living in the Boston metropolitan area. Traffic here in July is no worse than it is every day year-round for most of the area within the Route 495 belt. We sit within reasonable commuting distance to both Providence and Boston, and the average cost of housing in Bourne is about thirty percent less than comparable homes in the suburbs.

One big benefit we share with the other Cape towns is that our municipal services, public safety agencies, medical facilities, utilities, and service businesses are set up to serve peak seasonal populations, so they tend to be larger and better equipped than they would be in similar-sized inland communities. Our taxes are lower too because more than half of Bourne’s real estate taxes come from seasonal properties.

A unique benefit of living anywhere on Cape Cod is the broad variety and high quality of live entertainment available year-round. From the Symphony to the many theaters, coffee houses, clubs, and other venues, we never have to travel far or pay too much for a night out. Except in the quietest months of winter we also have many weekend festivals nearby.

Bourne enjoys a diverse population of retired summer visitors and military people who came here from all parts of the country and chose to return when their working days were over. That retired population includes many highly experienced professionals who volunteer to serve on the town’s fifty boards and committees, as well as for many non-governmental civic and cultural organizations.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to living in Bourne, though, is the strong sense of community that we share. We know who our neighbors are; we share their triumphs and tragedies; we support them when they need help and they watch out for us when we need them. We would rather patronize local businesses than drive out of town to save a few dollars. Most of us love our town and do what we can to make it a wonderful place to live.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise October 4, 2019)

This was going to be a gentle essay on how the Massachusetts Maritime Academy has made Bourne a college town and helped to restore Main Street Buzzards Bay as a vibrant downtown. That draft was written a few weeks ago, reviewed by the Academy President for accuracy, and was ready for publication.

That original draft pointed out that ours is the only Cape Cod town with a fully accredited four-year college offering Bachelor and Master of Science degrees, as well as continuing professional development programs. It noted that the Academy is not only the largest state maritime academy in the country, but is widely considered to be among the best.

It recounted the positive effects the Academy’s presence has had on revitalization of Bourne’s downtown. How the cadets and their families, as well as the many mariners coming to Bourne for continuing education and license recertification, patronize Main Street restaurants and businesses. And how the new Hampton Inn could not have been built in Buzzards Bay without the expectation of visitors from the Academy.

But then two things happened that changed the narrative. First, the Academy announced it was about to buy one of the most valuable developable parcels in Buzzards Bay to use as a parking lot. If this lot were developed as a mixed-use office/retail/residential center, in accordance with current zoning, it could potentially produce a quarter of a million dollars a year in tax revenue. Under state ownership it will pay no taxes.

Second, a drive around the village revealed that every available lot appeared to be a vehicle impoundment area wrapped in ugly rented chain-link fence. These lots not only do not benefit the town or its residents, they severely detract from the community and hurt us all.

This is simply not acceptable. Those of us who have been striving diligently for more than twenty years to create an inviting and thriving downtown never envisioned it becoming dead storage for hundreds of student vehicles. Just as we had turned the corner and finally seen our work coming to fruition, the institution that contributed so much to the revitalization is now inadvertently sabotaging it.

If this parking is essential, then the state needs to build a garage to accommodate it. If it is not essential, then the school needs to limit student parking just as every other non-commuter college does. If the Academy still wants to provide parking for its cadets, it needs to find a location outside of our downtown. The Steamship Authority’s Cataumet lot holds 1,000 cars and lies vacant from Labor Day to Memorial Day. Maybe an agreement could be struck to share that facility.

The town has little control over what the Maritime Academy does or where it does it. We can only raise our voices and loudly shout “NO!” when we dislike what it is doing to our downtown. If the Academy is to remain a good neighbor, it needs to make a drastic change of plans. Whatever is done, the current situation is simply intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue or expand.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise September 13, 2019)

What were they thinking? That was my first reaction upon seeing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s proposal to revamp Belmont Circle and the ramps connecting it to Route 25 at the entrance to downtown Buzzards Bay. Belmont Circle, sometimes called the east rotary, is neither a circle nor a rotary. It is more of a square; a confusing detour for thousands of visitors trying to get down-Cape.

A large portion of the traffic on Route 25 uses this exit, but both the off- ramp and the on-ramp are only one lane wide. The off-ramp then forces all traffic to go around the circle. Motorists suffer the effects of two major design flaws that compound each other every day year-round.

After twelve years of study, the state’s consulting engineers came up with a plan that does three things right and one thing so wrong that it boggles the mind. They recommend widening both the off-ramp and the on-ramp to two lanes, connecting all lanes directly with Scenic Highway, and adding a traffic signal for local traffic heading to or from Main Street and the bypass road. Those are all essential improvements that would correct the past design errors.

Belmont Circle Roundabout

Those changes would encourage more traffic heading to the Mid-Cape Highway to exit here and take Scenic Highway to the Sagamore Bridge instead of crossing the Bourne Bridge, clogging the bridge rotary and Sandwich Road, and backing up MacArthur Boulevard. On Saturday mornings in the summer, 59 percent of the traffic heading east on Route 25 to the Mid-Cape now uses the Bourne Bridge and Sandwich Road to get there.

But the engineers went totally off the rails when they proposed replacing the big square circle with a tiny roundabout that would consolidate all traffic using Main Street, Head of the Bay Road, and the bypass. This inane plan would choke off our burgeoning downtown and make it difficult for tractor trailers to get to local businesses.

The state proposal limits access to CVS, the Mobil station, and other businesses now located around Belmont Circle. It also proposes a redundant access ramp from Scenic Highway to Route 25 branching off at the already dangerous intersection with Nightingale Pond Road.

As a professional planner with more than half a century of experience in transportation studies, I consider roundabouts to be an abomination. They have all the disadvantages of rotaries but on a tighter scale. Even their proponents admit that they don’t work well where traffic volumes exceed 4,000 vehicles per day, which is less than one third of the traffic at this location.

Roundabouts have been promoted under the concept of “traffic calming” by the same people who want everyone to ditch their cars and travel only by bicycle, bus, or train. While that may be an admirable goal, it is highly myopic and won’t happen by making driving more aggravating.

Highway departments across the country have been replacing signalized intersections with roundabouts because they are less expensive to maintain. The state plan to put one in Buzzards Bay needs to be deep-sixed before it gets any further along in the development process. We already have a bad situation resulting from earlier road design errors; let’s not make it worse.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise August 16, 2019)

It’s Hen Cove; not Hen’s Cove. At least that’s the legend I learned from my grandmother many years ago. When this postcard photo was made more than a century ago it was apparently called Pocasset Bay. Hen Cove is the middle leaf of the three-leaf clover shape of Pocasset’s harbors, the others being Barlow’s Landing and Redbrook Harbor, which is actually in Cataumet. Hen Cove is the shallowest of the three harbors. My brother Ken and I both learned to sail there. Our family used to joke that if we ever got into trouble, we could just get out and walk home. Ken once flipped his home-made sailfish and the mast simply stuck in the mud.

Our grandfather had an old hard-chine gaff-rigged cedar catboat named “Old Squaw”. Grandpa’s old cat was not named for an elderly indigenous woman, but for a sea bird, now commonly called a long-tailed duck. The Old Squaw wasn’t technically a catboat, although it was half as wide as it was long, with a big barn door rudder and an even bigger centerboard. Hard-chine cats are notoriously difficult to turn in light air, so grandpa added an oak bowsprit and a small jib that helped coax it around. That boat was heavy, slow, and a very safe vessel for us in our pre-teen years to use exploring the area between Scraggy and Wings Necks.

Our favorite trip was to sail out to Bassett’s Island at low tide, run the Old Squaw up onto the sand bar, and go digging for quahogs. In those days you could still find some very big ones. When we had enough, we would take a swim until the incoming tide refloated our boat. Then we would raise the heavy canvas sail, haul the anchor, and coast home on a following sea. Those big clams were pretty tough, but our mom would steam them open, grind them up in a hand-cranked cast-iron grinder, and cook them into a glorious chowder. We would save the shells, clean them up and bake them in the sun, then paint water-color scenes on them and give them away as ash trays.

There may have in fact been some dude named Hen who dubbed this cove, but I really doubt it. The story that my grandmother told was that it was named after the little rocky islet in the center of this photo. That island is mostly gone now, washed away by many tides and winter storms. It reportedly once had a large rock on the northern edge, followed by a pile of rocks that were covered at high tide. Grandma called it Hen and Chickens Island. The legend is that when viewed on a foggy morning, the big rock looked a lot like a chicken, and the smaller rocks behind it like a brood of chicks. Hence the name of the island, and by extension the reason that this scenic inlet is now known as Hen Cove.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise July 5, 2019)

Watching the delight of the children at Bourne’s Fourth of July parade takes me back to a smaller parade when I was their age. In those days as now the best Independence Day celebrations happened in the neighborhoods. Our neighborhood was Pocasset Heights.
My grandfather, Bert Ewell, built a camp shack with an outhouse at the corner of Circuit and Saco Avenues in 1904. Over the years he expanded it into a comfortable year-round home that he and my grandmother retired to forty years later.

We had a cottage next door that my father bought from his uncle. Back then summer houses seldom sold to strangers. They usually stayed in the family for generations. Like most of the other cottages in the neighborhood, ours was pretty rustic.
It did have indoor plumbing of a sort. There was a flushable toilet and sink in a little room off the back entryway, but the only source of water was a shallow well with a massive iron pump next to the kitchen sink. To wash the dishes or flush the toilet we would prime the pump with water from a nearby bucket, then fill the bucket and carry it out to the wash room.

The kitchen had a wooden ice box that drained through a hole in the floor. Once a week an old man with a mule-drawn wagon laden with 50-pound blocks of ice would come by and restock our crude fridge. His visit was also a real treat for the neighborhood kids. Although he didn’t speak our language, he knew what we wanted. With a warm smile he would chip off a sliver of ice for each of us to cool our throats on a hot July day.

The highlight of the summer, though, was the annual neighborhood association clam bake. Early in the morning a crew would show up and build a sort of fortress on the beach near the big rock that remains to this day. They would start with a ring of rocks surrounding a bonfire that soon enough became a bed of hot embers.

They would then add layers of fresh seaweed, clams, potatoes, corn, and lobsters that steamed all afternoon. The wonderful aroma of that meal cooking made it seem like the longest day of the summer until we could finally dig in early that evening.

And then there was the parade, which was also a competition of sorts. Called the “horrible parade” it invited all the neighborhood children to dress up and make up as the most horrible creatures we could imagine. I won first prize one year as a bedraggled hobo but had to settle for second prize, which was a box of pencils. It seems the girl who came in second was only two and could not write yet.

Our old neighborhood is quite different today. The neighborhood association is still active and holding memorable events. But the young families that once filled the streets with laughing kids can no longer spare the time to live at the beach all summer. Nearly all of the old cottages have been replaced or rebuilt into year-round homes for those who can afford them.

Even the little beach at the end of Saco Ave is mostly gone, flooded twice a day by rising sea levels. I still like to wander down to the pier, though, and remember fondly those carefree days that now seem so long ago.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise June 14, 2019)

As the winter winds die down and the summer sun returns, many of us are dusting off our bikes, skates, and walking shoes and dreaming once again of the day when the Shining Sea Trail extends along Bourne’s Buzzards Bay shoreline between North Falmouth and the canal service road. The Bourne segment would certainly be the most scenic and probably the most heavily used portion of the of entire Cape Cod rail trail system.

This project would benefit Bourne in more ways than any other single action the town might take. It would provide safe bicycle and pedestrian connections among all of Bourne’s villages and off the streets. It would increase public safety by giving cyclists an alternative to pedaling on Shore and County Roads. And it would open some of the most scenic portions of the town’s coastline to view without need for expanded parking areas or roads.

Building this trail would also provide a significant boost to Bourne’s economy. The national non-profit organization Rails to Trails Conservancy has documented substantial financial benefits to local businesses and to public health where trails have been built. One in-depth survey cited by the Conservancy found average direct spending by trail users of $31 per person. Most of that money goes to locally-owned small businesses, such as lunch stops, bike shops, restaurants, and lodgings.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation estimates that Cape Cod rail trails are used by an average of 1,000 people per day during the summer season from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The Falmouth Bikeways Committee has counted an average of twice that many riders each Saturday, Sunday, and holiday during the summer on the Shining Sea Trail. The Army Corps of Engineers says 300,000 people use the canal service roads each year.

If only 100,000 people use the trail extension through Bourne each year, that would pump more than three million dollars into the town’s economy. It is not unreasonable to expect actual usage of the trail to double that number. It is also not unreasonable to expect that average spending per trail user would be higher than the Conservancy estimate because The Shining Sea Trail is a destination, drawing people from a wider area who are likely to stay for more than a day.

The Conservancy has also shown that property abutting a recreational trail increases in value compared to similar properties elsewhere, which could add a considerable amount to Bourne’s property tax base. Their researchers are studying this trail benefit to better document actual numbers, but currently estimate that properties directly abutting a trail sell for five to fifteen percent more than comparable properties that do not abut trails.

That means that current abutters would reap a windfall benefit when selling their properties, and the town would reap a windfall benefit when the higher selling prices prompt increases in the tax assessment. Over a period of time, this would add millions to Bourne’s tax base. In summary, extension of the Shining Sea Trail would be a wonderful recreational amenity that would tie Bourne’s many villages together while improving public safety and public health and boosting our economy. What more could we ever want?


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise May 17, 2019)

Is there anything that says “Cape Cod” more than our canal bridges? Not lighthouses; not beaches; not even sand dunes. Every coastal state has those, and theirs are often better than ours. But few tourist areas have anything as uniquely iconic as our graceful antique highway bridges. Do we really need to replace them?

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently engaged in a three-year study to determine whether it is more feasible to replace the two highway bridges with generic six-lane interstate structures, or to perform a major overhaul of the existing bridges. That was last done in 1982 and needs to be done about every 50 years.

Those of us who have endured hour-long backups at the Bourne Bridge this spring, and similar delays at the Sagamore last year, might welcome an efficient but ugly structure that gets us to work or home faster. But the loss to our image and cultural heritage would be unfortunate.

Here is an interesting fact about our bridges that a lot of people don’t realize: the Bourne Bridge is almost twice as long as the Sagamore. The central spans are identical, but the approach spans on the Bourne are about 1,000 feet longer than on the Sagamore. That would also nearly double the cost of replacing the Bourne Bridge.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation reports that on a summer Saturday 59 percent of the vehicles crossing the Bourne Bridge from the west travel around the rotary and along Sandwich Road to the Mid-Cape Highway. Those vehicles not only have to navigate three-quarters of the way around the rotary, but they also interfere with traffic coming north on MacArthur Boulevard. If that piece of the traffic could be removed, there would be few backups at the Bourne Bridge any time.

Instead of replacing the existing bridges, the Corps of Engineers and state highway engineers should consider a direct connection between Route 25 and the Mid-Cape. This would be a nearly straight highway, three miles long, generally following the route of the power lines between the Bourne/Plymouth town line on Route 25 and the Mid-Cape just east of Exit 1.

Picture a four-lane divided highway crossing a high-level concrete arch bridge near Bournedale. It would span the canal at a point where the land is 150 to 180 feet high on both sides. Connections at both ends would be east/west only, with no need for full interchanges or traffic lights. Such a connector would reduce the travel distance from seven miles to three.

The cost of this concept should be no more than the cost of replacing both existing bridges. It would remove more than half the traffic from the Bourne Bridge, and nearly half from the Sagamore Bridge, Scenic Highway, and Sandwich Road. That would mean far less wear and tear on the old bridges, as well as longer life spans with fewer disruptions for maintenance and repair.

Most importantly, future generations of Cape residents and visitors alike would still feel that wonderful sense of ease and of coming home that we get every time we cross onto the Cape over one of those beautiful old bridges.


(Published on the editorial page of the Bourne Enterprise April 12, 2019)

Volunteering and town meetings are two old New England traditions. Both are alive and well in Bourne. The town meeting form of government may be the purest form of democracy ever conceived and is nearly impossible to corrupt. Every voter has a chance to speak and gets an equal vote, along with the opportunity to step up and make a difference.

Our local government is actually run mostly by volunteers. We have department heads who are qualified professionals, with staffs of dedicated and experienced people handling the day-to-day business. But the most important policies, budgets, and programs are created and managed by unpaid volunteers serving on 48 boards and committees. With rare exceptions, even our elected officials get no pay or only token salaries.

These folks bring expertise to the table that the town could never afford. They offer lifetimes of knowledge and experience as business owners, executives, lawyers, accountants, teachers, and technicians. Most of their work goes unnoticed and seldom rewarded.

Three of those volunteers deserve special notice. Bob Parady, Sallie Riggs, and Mary Jane (MJ) Mastrangelo have each made volunteer contributions to Bourne that have made a real difference. For 18 years Bob Parady has led our town meetings with fairness, patience, and gentle restraint. As Town Moderator he appoints members to the Finance and Charter Compliance Committees. Bob was also a Selectman/Assessor/Sewer Commissioner for 18 years, on the Planning Board for three years, and served on many other volunteer committees.

Sallie Riggs lives in Falmouth, but has been the driving force behind the revitalization of Main Street Buzzards Bay as Bourne’s Downtown. Sallie created the National Marine Life Center, established the Bourne Financial Development Corporation, and for more than a decade led the Main Street Steering Committee. She also played leading roles on the Transportation Advisory Committee and the Wastewater Advisory Committee.

Because of Sallie’s vision and dogged determination, we now have Keystone Place, and will soon have the Hampton Inn, Calamar Apartments, and a wastewater treatment facility that will enable additional new development and redevelopment downtown. In every case Sallie worked with the developers to convince them that it would be worthwhile to invest in Bourne and to guide them through the approval process. Someday we may see even more economic benefit from her vision for a technology park on the Ingersoll land in Bournedale.

And then there is MJ. Mary Jane Mastrangelo may be the hardest working volunteer that the town has ever seen. She has for years chaired the Finance Committee and the Capital Outlay Committee, and regularly participates in the meetings of many other committees. When a perfect storm of events drove the cost of the new wastewater treatment facility well past the budget, MJ stepped in and showed town officials how to make it work.

Serving on a town committee can be exasperating at times, but also wonderfully satisfying. There is always more work to do than there are hands to do it. Our town is blessed to have so many who are willing to step up and do the work, but we could always use a few more volunteers.