This southeastern corner of Martha’s Vineyard is undergoing dramatic change due to the seismic currents which are re-shaping this coastal reservation on a daily basis. Since that April 2007 storm cut nearby Norton Point Beach in half, the resulting breach has slowly marched towards Wasque Point. The approaching breach will someday reattach Norton Point Beach at Wasque Point on Chappaquiddick’s southeast corner, but before it does, expect to see hundreds of feet of beach, upland and salt marsh lost to the sea. If you are thrilled with the sight and feel of nature’s unbridled power to change our Earth, you will not want to miss visiting Wasque.
What makes Wasque a special place?
Chappaquidick, the easternmost natural appendage of Martha’s Vineyard, suggests a small replica of the larger land mass: an island of upland woods, coastal heath, protected bays, and barrier beaches. However, as noted above, Wasque is at the epicenter of dynamic coastal change which is all part of a cycle of natural barrier beach openings which help cleanse Edgartown Harbor of layers of built-up silt and mud and replaces it with sand. This flushing of Edgartown Harbor is expected to bring a boon to the area’s recreational and commercial shellfisheries and provides new opportunities for shore anglers.
The almost 1,000 acres of preserved land here – encompassing Wasque, Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, Mytoi, and Norton Point Beach – offer plenty of places to explore on one’s own, or with family and friends, year-round.
A Coastal Playground on Martha’s Vineyard
If you love to get outside, Wasque (“way-skwee”) is your “must-see” coastal experience on the Vineyard. For generations, visitors and residents alike have fond memories of sweeping white sand beaches, Wasque Point’s stairs and boardwalks onto the long beach and the peaceful feeling of a land stopped in time. Today, Wasque is in transition—undergoing what many Native Vineyarders remember from long ago. The stairs and boardwalks have been swept into the sea, the beach at Wasque Point is gone and, where once the Swan Pond provided a scenic backdrop for nesting geese and swans. Now, the Swan Pond is gone and the Wasque Point beach is nothing more than a thin strip of sand at the base of towering sand cliffs which end in the surf. Chappaquiddick Island has once again become a true island — no longer connected to the Vineyard by Norton Point Beach. Wasque Swimming Beach is still present, but expect changes to happen on this beach on the southern side of Chappaquiddick to happen. Shifting sandbars, strong long-shore currents and the rapidly moving Breach will likely erode great portions of the swimming beach. Watch for swimming warnings as conditions warrant.
Like the herons and egrets that congregate here to fish, saltwater anglers find Wasque a fine destination for striped bass and bluefish. Hikers will find .5 miles of trails to follow, through a habitat of rare sand barrens.
Nature watchers can sit back and observe many bird species, including sandpipers, Piping plovers, terns and other shorebirds at the surf line and ospreys hovering over the water’s surface, preparing to dive onto a fish. Poucha Pond contain marshes that offer habitat for great blue herons, egrets, migrating shorebirds, and ducks. Children will love spotting monarch butterflies as they feed on the flowers of the Northern Blazing Star before migrating south, while parents and caregivers scan for less dramatic appearing butterflies and moths such as mourning cloaks, sulphurs, and red admirals, which appear annually.
An Ancient History
To the geologist, Wasque is an excellent example of a glacially-deposited land form. Its dry, acidic, sandy soil nurtures an oak and pine forest, sandplain grasslands, and heathlands. Windy conditions, grazing, and fires have kept forests from taking hold here.
Due to the recent and dramatic beach erosion, there are no accessible oversand-vehicle trails but we still have .5 miles of walking trails and sandy roads in the upland area.
Advisories: Due to strong and changing currents, swimming at Wasque can be hazardous. Use caution at all times and if in doubt, don’t go in the water! The sand cliffs at Wasque can be particularly dangerous. Don’t go near the edge of the cliffs as they tend to be undercut and you may be standing on nothing more than a thin layer of ground — stay at least 10 feet from the edge of all of Wasque’s cliffs. At low tide, you may be tempted to venture around the base of these extensive cliffs, but falling trees and other hazards can block your escape route when the tide comes in. Avoid swimming in areas where seals are present. The growing population of seals on the sand islands off of Wasque’s shores may attract feeding sharks.
Use common sense – be safe, be wary and respect the power and beauty of nature from a safe distance!
When to Visit
Year-round, daily, 24 hours. Allow a minimum of 1 hour, longer if also visiting Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge and/or Mytoi.
Public restrooms. Picnic tables. Bike rack. Limited handicapped-accessible transportation.
Native Americans camped at Wasque (from “wannasque,” an Algonquin word meaning “the ending”) during the warmer months of the year. Settlement by colonists from Europe did not arrive on this part of Chappaquiddick until at least 1750. Land speculation in the late 19th century resulted in several large, upscale development proposals that never came to be.
One proposal, dubbed “Chappaquiddick-by-the-Sea,” included 750, quarter-acre plots laid out in a grid system and set along imagined streets and broad avenues with parks and clubhouses and docking facilities for yachts. In the end, only a handful of homes were built in the area before the reservation was established.
Property Acquisition History
Purchased in 1967