Facilitating Cape Cod Dune Shacks Management

CBI assists the National Park Service (NPS) and Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) to work collaboratively with stakeholders, integrating community values about place and tradition into decision-making around the preservation of a culturally significant historic district.

Background and Challenges

Scattered along a remote stretch of the Cape Cod coastline near Provincetown, Massachusetts, are nineteen simple yet historic dwellings – primitive shacks sheltered by the dunes – the first, built in the 1800s to aid lifesaving activities. Over the following decades, this collection of “dune shacks” gained recognition as an artistic colony where the likes of Eugene O'Neill, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollack, and others drew inspiration for their creative work. For generations, many of these dune shacks remained in the possession of the families that built them, and served as the foundation of a tightly-knit and unique community. In 1961, with the establishment of the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS), the National Park Service (NPS) acquired all but one of the shacks by eminent domain, offering individualized use and occupancy agreements that allowed former owners to remain in their shacks for a specified period of time.

After the destruction of several shacks, a group of stakeholders succeeded in gaining federal protection through designation as a National Register-eligible district. Once former owners’ occupancy rights expired, NPS began leasing them out on a case-by-case basis to interested individuals and not-for-profit organizations. However, no long-term strategy for maintaining, using, and preserving the shacks was put in place. From 1992 to 2002, two different dune shack subcommittees of the CCNS Federal Advisory Commission attempted to develop a shared use plan; however, imbalances in representation and poor group dynamics left them unable to produce a plan that was acceptable to all of the stakeholders and in compliance with CCNS regulations.

In 2009, with the approaching expiration of the use terms on several of the shacks, and future occupancy still in dispute, the Cape Cod National Seashore asked CBI to help develop an effective, comprehensive dune shacks preservation and use plan. Designed as a collaborative process involving a range of key stakeholders, the project was to help participants understand National Park Service constraints, develop recommendations for protecting and interpreting the value of the dune shacks, and determine how visitors, dune dwellers, and others would use the historic district.

The CBI Approach

CBI helps form a dune shacks subcommittee that represents the interests of all stakeholders; CBI also facilitates public subcommittee meetings; and, meets continually with major stakeholders throughout the process to test ideas, clarify interests, discuss progress, and review next steps.

CBI began the process by helping to form a new dune shack subcommittee. To avoid imbalances in representation, CBI ensured that internally-appointed representatives from all major stakeholder groups had a seat, including: long-time dune dwelling families; local government representatives; non-profit public use and art organizations; other advocacy groups; and several representatives from the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission. Public subcommittee meetings were held, and CBI maintained an ongoing productive group dynamic throughout the process, while the subcommittee deliberated on topics such as resource protection, historic structure preservation, public access, perpetuation of traditions, management models and mechanisms, transition between uses and users, and compliance mechanisms.

CBI facilitators met several times with coalition groups of dune shack residents and non-profits, to test ideas and clarify interests, and used both online surveys and conference calls with smaller working groups to make progress on proposals between these meetings. CBI met with Cape Cod National Seashore and the National Park Service on an regular basis to discuss progress and review next steps.

The dune shacks subcommittee provided a detailed progress report to the CCNS Advisory Commission and held another open meeting to allow public comment on its draft ideas and progress, prior to finalizing its report.


CBI helps the dune shacks subcommittee produce a report for the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission, detailing the subcommittee's preservation and use plan. The report was accepted by the Advisory Commission and submitted to the CCNS.

CBI helped the dune shacks subcommittee produce a consensus report for the CCNS Advisory Commission, detailing a plan for the preservation and use of the shacks, and offering guidelines for current and future CCNS Superintendents of the historic district. Recommendations include: a framework and criteria for stewardship and occupancy; opportunities for public access; models for transitions between the uses and users; a repair and maintenance guide; and suggestions for the protection of natural and cultural resources. With a few small changes, this report was accepted by the Advisory Commission and submitted to the CCNS.

The report and draft alternatives were analyzed by the CCNS, incorporated into the “Dune Shack Historic District Preservation and Use Plan/Environmental Assessment/Assessment of Effect”, and released for public comment, with a “preferred alternative” that reflected the proposal of the subcommittee.