Exactly who among us does not want to protect Napatree Point? Who among us does not want to see Napatree survive as it is in perpetuity for the enjoyment of generations to come? And who exactly is threatening to build something on this spit of sand and beach grass exposed to the pounding surf of Block Island Sound and the salt spray carried on howling winds?
Those were some of the questions that came to mind while reading Thursday’s story about this morning’s vote by the Watch Hill Fire District, which owns about 90 percent of the peninsula. Residents are voting on whether the district should, in essence, share ownership of its portion of Napatree with the Watch Hill Conservancy by placing a conservation easement on the district’s portion of the property. If this more official relationship between the two, which share five members in leadership positions, is approved the conservancy would take the lead in funding any legal expenses that might be incurred from defending, monitoring and enforcing conservation measures. The fire district would retain its ownership, but the conservancy would be considered a co-owner for the purposes of litigation.
Napatree Point is one of the examples that many point to when they talk about the characteristics of this region that provide such a nice quality of life. So what has brought on this defensive posture?
There was mention of building a public dock at Napatree as part of the larger discussion regarding a Harbor Management Plan that would cover all waterways in Westerly and provide for public access to the shoreline and that, apparently was the last straw. As the article in the latest edition of the conservancy’s newsletter explained, the dock controversy “was only one of many over recent years stirred up by a small minority of people who see development of Watch Hill’s natural resources as a goal which should trump the conservation of those resources.”
I hope the Watch Hill Fire District and Conservancy leaders aren’t using “public use of Napatree” and “development” synonymously.
In addition to those who drive to Watch Hill by car, hundreds of boaters, and I’m one of them, enjoy Napatree by anchoring on the “inside” — in Little Narragansett Bay — and trekking over a few designated trails through the dunes to the “outside” where they can spend the day beaching or birding or fishing while enjoying the glorious views across the Sound. Even as a boater I never took the dock idea seriously, or thought it made much sense.
Families have made the car or boat trip for generations, and Napatree has survived. Napatree was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy in terms of lost sand dune, and that includes the only area that is developed — the area around the Watch Hill Yacht Club and cabanas, and the Misquamicut Club’s facility and huge paved parking lot, which is just feet away from the bay.
Napatree is one of our gems — the gem, for many. No one who truly appreciates Napatree wants to see any development there.
As written, the agreement between the two organizations seems to make sense, since it indicates that any actions causing changes to the waters surrounding Napatree would be prohibited, which I take to mean that all of us who go by boat can continue to do so. And it’s good to know that public access and “passive recreation such as swimming, walking, sunbathing, bird-watching, fishing, and boating will continue unchanged unless unforeseen circumstances arise requiring a change in how the area is used.” I can’t imagine what “unforeseen circumstances” might arise from passive recreation that haven’t arisen in all the generations of use, so I’m not concerned about losing access. And who would ever consider closing public access to this natural resource? It would take an army and an armada to make it happen.