The rain didn’t stop us from enjoying a low-key tour of the sand dunes in Provincetown. I say low-key because it was not the adrenaline-fueled, four wheeling ride I had feared for (a la Jackass). It was rather modeled after a safari of sorts, easing over the dunes and learning about the history, with a few short accelerated dune climbs for effect.
The company who offers the tours, Art’s Dune Tours, is a Provincetown staple, enjoying their 63rd year in operation. A family-owned business, Art’s is run today by Rob Costa, who inherited the gig from his late father. This is the only company around that has driving access to the dunes, which are sequestered off for conservation. Here’s the short version of our experience:
The dunes started out as a forest, before being clear cut for their wood, which was shipped back to England to build pubs and false teeth (just kidding… or am I?). With the trees gone, the topsoil blew away, the sand was exposed, and the wind created the flowing dunes. Then a bunch of artists built shacks on the sand and people drove and rode on the dunes until they were decimated. JFK declared it a national park and the shacks were torn down, but a few owners held out. They got the shacks listed as national historic landmarks and are allowed to pass them down, but only to family. Most are still privately held but some are held in a trust to invite other artists out to practice their craft.
When there are no artists for a week, trust contributors get a chance to stay there through a lottery selection process. In the 70’s, the fashionable thing to do was plant grass on the dunes. It is everywhere, but the 90 year old thinks all the plant matter is “junk.” She is trying to give her shack to the trust because no one in her family wants it, so it doesn’t revert to government ownership. After several hundred years, the grass should provide enough topsoil to allow a forest to grow again – as long as nobody stands in the way.
I guess the part of the story that struck me the most is the fact that deforestation caused such a dramatic change in the ecosystem. The trees didn’t just grow back like I would expect.
Art’s Dune Tours also offers something else that sounded pretty cool. Aside from the drive we enjoyed, they have all of the permits necessary to transport a party of people over the dunes and to the beach, and host evening BYOB campfires and clam bakes. This sounds like a heck of a cookout. It is definitely going on my list of things to do.