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Two families celebrate after National Park Service says they can keep occupying Provincetown dune shacks

Dune grass on the Dune Shacks Trail in Provincetown.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/file 2020

Two families that have long maintained historic Provincetown dune shacks will be allowed to remain after the National Park Service notified them Wednesday that their bids to stay were successful. And a new occupant has been selected for a third shack after the family that had been maintaining it withdrew their application over the summer.

In May, the Park Service launched a public request for proposals to maintain eight remote dune shacks on the Outer Cape. While terms of the leases are still being finalized, the news offers relief for members of the storied dune colony who argued that the RFP would displace the longtime community and jeopardize the shack structures. A second group of dune dwellers is slated to receive their news in April.


In letters dated Nov. 15, Cape Cod National Seashore regional director Gay Vietzke wrote to the caretakers of the Braaten and Fearing dune shacks that both had been selected for negotiation of a proposed lease, adding that representatives from the Cape Cod National Seashore would be in touch to discuss terms.

“We look forward to continuing a close and cooperative relationship with you under this lease,” wrote Vietzke.

The family occupying the Adams shack withdrew their application in late summer. Katie Steiger-Meister, a public affairs specialist with the Park Service, confirmed Wednesday that an applicant had been chosen and said the agency would issue an update once all three leases are executed.

For longtime caretakers of the Fearing shack, the news is cause for a massive exhale.

“We feel like we’ve been running in a marathon for the last five months, and some of us are exhausted,” said Peter Clemons. Clemons and his family have been a part of the Fearing shack and its maintenance since 1974. “Today was a bit of crossing over some kind of finish line, and we’re going to now collapse.”


Clemons said he is eager to proceed with necessary repairs, as the shack is inundated with sand and needs work.

“We’ll be patching and repairing and shoveling and doing the stuff that we’ve always done for the last nearly 50 years,” he said. “This is not a weekend relationship we have.”

The Braaten shackNational Parks Service

In the Braaten shack, a trio of occupants with a long Provincetown history among them will chart its future. Talilla Schuster received an NPS selection letter Wednesday; her father lived year-round in the shack for 28 years and her mother was a founding board member of the Peaked Hill Trust, a nonprofit that maintains five other dune shacks used for artist residencies. Her partners include fisherman and chocolatier Josiah Mayo, and Chad Avellar, a whale watch charter captain and descendant of author Hazel Hawthorne, who helped establish the dune shack colony and Provincetown itself as an arts center.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to pieces, and we’re really excited that we can continue finishing the repairs,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to sharing the shack with other people in the community.”

Dune dweller advocate Michela Murphy, whose family owns Provincetown restaurant Sal’s Place, praised the Park Service decisions.

“It’s showing that they know that these people are the best people to safeguard these shacks and to carry them forward to the next generations,” she said.

In October, the Park Service offered a five-year extension to a longtime dune dweller, the painter Salvatore Del Deo, who has cared for the Schnell shack for nearly 80 years, after evicting him earlier in the summer. That shack had been slated to appear in a future RFP round.


In October, the Park Service issued letters to a second group of dune dwellers who applied to remain in their shacks, extending their access until April 30, when the next round of decisions is due.