[Hidden Shapes Old West]’Expedition Blue’ structures spotlight the link between water and Cape Cod’s economy

  Six years ago, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce launched the Blue Economy project to raise awareness about the cultural and economic opportunities the ocean and the environment play on Cape Cod.

  The?initiative is designed to expose adults and children?to the idea that the blue economy offers many more options than are overtly obvious, said Wendy Northcross, the Chamber’s CEO until her retirement on Wednesday.?

  ”You don’t have to be like a doctor. You can be working in a lab helping starfish,” said Northcross, a guiding force behind the project. Waterfronts, aquaculture, commercial fishing, marine technology, marine science, transportation and recreation are?all parts of the blue economy.

  In conjunction with the blue economy effort,?waterfront “Expedition Blue” installations of various sizes? — with pieces described as markers, viewfinders?and waypoints — have placed to get the message out to visitors and residents alike about water as our way of life.

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  They have been set up in eight Cape towns and, by later this summer, installations are due to be set up at Owen Park Beach in Vineyard Haven and on Children’s Beach on Nantucket, too.

  Organizers from theChamber, though, are already moving one installation in Provincetown after multiple officials and residents complained that it was partially blocking the ocean overlook it was meant to celebrate.

  “It looks like big hunks of crap ruining a view,” Select Board Chairman David Abramson said June 16 at the board’s first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic.

  The first Expedition Blue structure installed in Provincetown, located at the West End boat ramp, is being moved to another location following a select board vote.

  The West End boat ramp installation had been put up in June but will now be moved, once consultations with town staff and the town Department of Public Works are completed, according to town Marine and Emergency Management Coordinator Rex McKinsey. The Harbor Committee was due to meet last?Wednesday to consider new locations based on the Select Board’s recommendations, he said.

  “We hope (the new site) will be a little less controversial,” Bert Jackson, Cape Cod Blue Economy Foundation director of community engagement, told the Times .

  The other seven “Expedition Blue” sites in Provincetown have been installed in accordance with the Select Board’s unanimous May 2020 vote approving the project at town landings and other public spaces recommended by the Harbor Committee, project officials said.

  That’s the case for the other 25 installations around the Cape and Islands, too, Jackson said, for?what he called “a very special project” that is part of the overall blue economy?initiative. All of the wayfinders?are due to be completed this month, and an online map of how to find them is due to be available soon.

  The eight Cape towns participating are Provincetown, Brewster, Chatham, Yarmouth, Barnstable (in Hyannis), Falmouth, Sandwich and Bourne.


  All materials for the structures were bought after?signed commitments from all participating towns Northcross said in a?statement?last month to the Provincetown Banner. No other towns have rejected any of the projects, though there were towns that elected not to participate when originally invited, she said.

  While the various structures have a few different sizes and shapes, each site has an 8-by-12-inch viewfinder?plaque that gives visitors information about what they’re looking at, plus a multimedia, phone-friendly addition of a QR code and short URL for visitors to find more information about each site and a map, Jackson told the Times.

  He described the markers as large cubes, double-cubes, benches and?posts?— 8-foot-tall poles each with a 4-foot-wide post — that frame?a view. Each marker highlights the diversity of blue economy sectors from their history, prominence, operations, future opportunities and uniqueness.

  Here is the regional map that shows the breadth of the Expedition Blue network throughout the Cape Cod region. [Courtesy/Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce]

  The blue economy?concept seeks to balance and grow the region’s economy by focusing on its water and coastal resources, according to the chamber website.

  ”It’s rooted in acknowledgment that the environment is our economy and that the two are inextricably linked,” the website stated.

  Expedition Blue aims to connect the broad regional interests and offerings of the blue economy sectors to appeal to a wide audience of educators, visitors and locals, according to the project’s website. The Waypoints project?is meant to create a linked geographic trail of interpretive markers.?

  ”The blue economy is tucked away and hidden,” said Northcross, who?retired after 24 years and described Expedition Blue to the Times as her “parting project.”


  The project was designed for all ages, according to the bluecapecod.org/expedition-blue website, “but with particular emphasis on educating young people about the special relationship with our waters, how it sustains us, how we care for it, and how to engage for the future.”

  The Chamber launched the Blue Economy project in 2015 and The Cape Cod Blue Economy Foundation?Inc. was established in 2017 to support it. Jackson has been working as community liaison for the past two years. The Expedition Blue project was first discussed by the Provincetown Harbor Committee at the end of 2019, for example, and the town’s sites were approved by the Select Board in May 2020, went out to bid in September 2020, then were installed in June.

  The network of Expedition Blue sites on the Cape and Islands received grant support from the Baker-Polito administration’s Seaport Economic Council, to showcase the region’s economic and social connections to water.?

  Despite the unanimous approval in May 2020, several Provincetown Select Board members said on June 16 that they did not remember approving the project that included the controversial, 8-foot-high installation.

  While the project is worthwhile, Select Board member Robert Anthony said at that meeting, there were concerns about the choices behind the design. The idea was to allow a person to look through the structure to frame the beach and sky ahead, with two nearby benches for longer viewing.

  While some of the 166 comments on a June 13 Facebook post about the Provincetown structure called it “lovely,” others were far more critical. Select Board Vice-Chairman John Golden said at the June 16 meeting: “This looks like it is trying to be a piece of art that, at the end of the day, is blocking the view. To me, this is too much.”

  Other Provincetown installations include two half walls at the boardwalk opposite the Whydah Museum and waterfront park next to the old fuel dock, McKinsey said. Both of those sites are near the waterfront at MacMillan Pier.

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  Overall, the design of some of the installations was inspired by the lifesaving shacks that once dotted the Cape coastline to provide?refuge for shipwrecked sailors, according to the chamber website. Since not all installation sites can accommodate a full structure, a kit of parts adaptable to a range of sites and stories was designed by the architectural firm CambridgeSeven.

  The text to each is unique, though.

  “In Provincetown, to be more of a unique style, we wanted to express our heritage, the history of this place in addition to talking about all those other ways we make a living from the ocean,” said McKinsey after the June 16 meeting. “Water transportation, whale watch businesses, commercial fishing and aquaculture are not only what’s happening now, but it’s our history. It’s our legacy.”

  Jackson said?he hopes the overall project will get the attention of everyone, but particularly the younger generation.

  “If your 14-year-old son or daughter were standing here?and looking out there, what would you want them to know about this?” he?said. “How can we inspire, especially young people, to understand what?their?future is here in the blue economy?”