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Cape Cod Island Opens to the Public for the First Time in 300 Years

When Sipson Island went on the luxury real estate market in 2018, locals saw an opportunity for conservation

Sipson Island in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, opened to the public on July 25. (Courtesy of the Sipson Island Trust)
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Last weekend, 24-acre Sipson Island—which was, until recently, Cape Cod’s last privately owned island—opened to the public for the first time since 1711, reports Denise Coffey for the Cape Cod Times.

Local residents joined with the Friends of Pleasant Bay and the Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts to establish the nonprofit Sipson Island Trust (SIT) and purchase the property after it went on the luxury real estate market in 2018.

“[T]he prospect of trophy estates or a ‘glamping’ resort in the heart of Pleasant Bay spurred neighbors into action,” the trust writes on its website.

Eight acres of the island remain under private ownership, but the new owners hope to raise enough money to purchase the final swath of land by 2021.

The Monomoyick, who lived in what is now called the Lower Cape for about 9,000 years, sold the island to English colonists in 1711. Per the trust’s Facebook page, the island derives its name from a Monomoyick sachem, or chief, named John Sipson.

“We want to give back to the island and honor the native people who were here before us,” SIT President Tasia Blough tells CNN’s Lauren Johnson. “The best we know how to do that is by learning, upholding, applying, and teaching (to the best of our ability) the principles and values of those indigenous people. To us, that means sharing the island, giving back to the island, restoring it to a balanced and natural state and teaching others to do the same.”

To reach the island, visitors must navigate a private boat to its eastern shore or approach from the west via kayak or paddleboard. The trust asks that only shallow-draft boats under 22 feet land ashore in order to protect the island’s marine environment.

“We are so excited about welcoming visitors to this extraordinary place,” says Blough in a statement. “As we’ve been preparing the island for opening, I’ve been constantly amazed by the range of beauty we’re discovering. It’s like unlocking a secret garden.”

Potential activities include strolling along walking paths, taking photographs of the scenery, hiking, swimming, picnicking and fishing (with a license). The island offers a variety of ecosystems to explore, including beaches, coastal banks, a salt marsh, eelgrass beds, meadows and woodland, according to Kristi Palma of Boston.com.

Visitors are barred from bringing pets, starting fires and hunting local wildlife. A few residences remain standing on the island and are off-limits as the trust “undevelops” and restores the area, reports the Cape Cod Chronicle. Other structures, like the boathouse on the island’s west side, will be conserved.

Over the next several years, the Sipson Island Trust hopes to incorporate the remaining eight acres of land, deconstruct three of the four structures standing on the island, and build an open-air research and education center, per CNN. Caretakers plan to promote outdoor recreation while restoring the island’s natural ecosystems and supporting environmental and historical research.

As Blough tells CNN, “When it was for sale ... there were a number of conservation organizations who wanted to find a way to raise the money [to] protect it, preserve it and make it accessible to the public.”

Editor’s Note, August 3, 2020: This article has been edited to better reflect the ecological features open to the public.

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