Matters of Opinion

Can Cape Cod handle the love?

 crowded cape
Have you ever loved too much? Think about it. Have you ever been embroiled in a white-hot affair you just knew was not going to end well? One that crowded your space and smothered your life and for all the excitement caused you to lose the peaceful, healthy life you took for granted before it began?

I was reminded of the question twice last week, not in the context of relationships but of land use on Cape Cod and strangely enough, there were similarities.


sag traffic 2In the first instance a Wellfleet Department Head reported, quite poetically, that a local pond was being loved too much. She meant that enthusiastic crowds were overrunning the beach and overflowing the parking lot, straining the septic system and overloading the pond with nitrates. She understood why visitors loved a cool freshwater pond in a July heat wave but wondered if it wasn’t being loved too much, if it could survive its popularity.

The very same week there was an article about the overwhelming popularity of the annual Wellfleet Oysterfest and that organizers were searching for ways to limit the number of people who attend. The festival draws so many people from all over the country that traffic on Route Six sometimes backs up for two hours, crowds on Main Street are packed, literally as tight as an elevator, and there are very real concerns about public safety.

Nor do the organizers go out of their way to publicize the event. But just as they are drawn to a cool kettle pond on a hot summer day, visitors to the Wellfleet Oysterfest are responding to an age-old human desire to toast the golden days of autumn.

In fact, in our safety-driven society it’s as close as some Americans come to the pagan ritual of Octoberfest that originated in Munich, Germany, five centuries ago, in which it is said that the sparkling goddess that enters the body like an icy stream is worshipped as she takes hold of the spirit. Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s not unlike downing oysters and brew while listening to a kick-ass rock band with your friends in the sunshine.

Not only do people love Oysterfest, it’s an economic boon that extends the summer season and puts cash in the pockets of local merchants, fishermen, restaurants, real estate agents, and craftspeople who are lucky enough to capitalize.

Others rent their homes or parking spaces in their yards. Those who can’t make money off it leave town or, to borrow a newly coined verb phrase from the emergency management bureaucracy, shelter in place, an action commonly associated with public safety, which in the article included worries about gridlock and fire.

The best thinkers on how to solve the problem have settled on selling a limited number of tickets in advance, which  gives rise to an altogether new local enterprise: scalping. Other plans involve corralling the entire festival at the town pier, which doesn’t do much to alleviate the problem of overcrowding, but does make the entire enterprise totally vulnerable to late October weather.

My own solution will sound rather drastic to those who are already counting this coming year’s cash. It’s simply an adaptation of the moratorium on fishing, or what your therapist might prescribe for a burning love affair that’s gotten too intense: separate for awhile, cool things off.

Call the event off for a year or two, evaluate what’s great and not so great about previous festivals. Come up with fresh ideas. Figure out how best to distribute tickets. Give town residents a chance to miss what they now avoid. And get visitors out of the habit of showing up until we’re better able to stage the fest on our own terms, because right now the crowd is controlling the show.

The massive popularity of Oysterfest isn’t a situation specific to Wellfleet, of course. Fourth of July weekend saw 25-mile traffic backups at the bridges and I don’t expect anybody to close them any time soon.

There’s too much money involved and the fever money creates, like the fever of love itself, is just too hot to walk away from. I know I never could.

I just hope this intense love affair with Cape Cod doesn’t end as badly as some of my own.

I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.

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Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.