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National Park Service is seeking bids to lease eight historic ‘dune shacks’

Always dreamed of escaping to a remote, weathered shack on the Cape Cod coast? Now you can.

The National Park Service has issued a Request for Proposals to lease eight historic dune shacks along the Cape Cod National Seashore.National Parks Service

To get there, you’ll have to make your way by foot along the sloping, sandy paths of the Cape Cod coast, or rev up an off-road vehicle that can handle the uneven terrain.

Once you arrive at one of the eight remote retreats, supplies in tow, the thrum and bustle of city life will quickly give way to the distant calls of circling seagulls and the rhythm of waves lapping on the beach. At night, curious animals may pay a visit.

Luxury camping this is not. Don’t expect great cellphone reception, and your closest neighbor might be a sandpiper nesting in the beach grass. Running water and electricity? You’ll have to rely on more primitive systems to get by.


But for those hoping to trade the demands of modern life for a simpler existence with sweeping views of the Atlantic — a place to reconnect with nature, revel in solitude, and concentrate on creative pursuits — here’s your chance.

For the first time, the National Park Service is seeking public bids for long-term leases of the historic “dune shacks” that fleck the landscape along the Cape Cod National Seashore in Truro and Provincetown.

But unlike many property owners, the park service isn’t overhyping the listing.

“The dune shacks are small, weathered, and often built on pilings to adjust for the ever-moving sand dunes surrounding these properties,” the park service said in a statement this week. “The houses are remote, with no paved roads leading to them.”

There are 19 of the buildings on the seashore, all part of the Peaked Hill Bars Historic District, but the park service is looking to lease only a handful. Others are operated by nonprofits, under agreements with the park service, that offer residency programs. People can book an appointment for a tour on June 15 by e-mailing the park service. Those interested must apply by July 3.


The Kemp dune shack, one of the oldest and most rustic of the shanties, is 102 square feet.National Parks Service

Many shacks have had a variety of uses throughout their existence, housing Coast Guardsmen who worked at the Peaked Hill Coast Guard station from the 1920s to the 1950s, locals looking to escape tourist season, and artists and writers seeking inspiration, officials said.

According to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, a slate of luminaries have taken refuge in the seaside shanties over the years, including Jackson Pollock, Tennessee Williams, E. E. Cummings, and Henry David Thoreau. One was even a getaway for the “poet of the dunes,Harry Kemp, and is named after him.

At first blush, some of the shacks look crudely built or outright abandoned, and some are no bigger than a backyard toolshed. The modest interiors offer little beyond a place to sleep and a few windows to stare out of.

“Historically, these dune shacks have been used to foster a deeper connection with the natural world, promote solitude and inspiration, and to support the creative process for writers and artists within the local community,” according to the park service’s announcement. “The dune shack structures are rustic in design and were intentionally designed to promote a simpler way of life.”

While homely and unassuming, the shacks are in relatively good shape, offering a camplike feel with a majestic view of the hilly seaside and ocean beyond. And compared to most waterfront properties in Massachusetts, the price is right.


Initial annual rents range from $2,107 for the Jones dune shack to $16,000 for the larger Adams dune shack, which has a separate guest building. But the process is competitive, and offers could exceed those amounts, according to the park service.

The yellow, highlighted dune shack names indicate which ones will be available to lease.National Parks Service

Park officials are hoping to lease the properties for up to 10 years, though a shorter stay could be negotiated. They will be leased “as is with all faults,” and successful bidders must occupy and maintain the structures and are responsible for the cost of repairs and maintenance, whether a leaky roof or rickety steps.

Lease applications will be evaluated on overall merit, and park service officials said they will consider “compatibility of the proposed use of the property with respect to preservation [and] protection” as well as the bidder’s finances and ability “to conduct activities in the park area in an environmentally enhancing manner.”

That means people cannot run any business or commercial enterprise while leasing the homes (no summer clam shack to defray the rent) or upgrade with modern amenities. They also can’t sublet the shacks like an Airbnb.

The shacks can be used from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with access to the property for maintenance and seasonal preparations from the beginning of April through the end of October, the park service said.

Restrictions and responsibilities aside, the humble abodes are described as a welcome respite from a world that often seems to move too quickly.

Jane Paradise, a photographer who published a book of images and quotes featuring the small homes called “The Dune Shacks of Provincetown,” wrote that what the area lacks in terms of contemporary comforts and technologies, it makes up for with natural wonder.


“Coyotes will howl in the night, foxes will cry or scream; numerous animal tracks will envelope the sand around your shack in the morning,” she said. “You wonder where all those tracks came from and how you didn’t hear a sound. Solitude abounds with the sound of the sea ever present.”

The Fleurant dune shack, one of eight shacks up for lease by the National Park Service. This shack is roughly 150 feet from the ocean.National Park Service
The Braaten dune shack is roughly 200 feet from ocean, and 2.8 miles north of High Head Road in Provincetown.National Parks Service

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him @steveannear.