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

Sipson Island has been privately held since British colonists purchased it from the Monomoyick Native American tribe in 1711

sipson island
Photo: Sipson Island Trust

Something very special occurred on Pleasant Bay this past weekend.

Public visitors were welcomed to Sipson Island and invited to explore pristine shoreline beaches, grassy meadows, and oak– and pine-shaded trails. That hasn't happened in over 300 years.

Not since the 24-acre island off the coast of Cape Cod was bought by early English colonists from the sachem, the leader of the local Monomoyicks Native Americans, members of the region's Wampanoag Nation.

Located just one hundred yards offshore from the township of Orleans, Sipson has remained in private hands since 1711. Pleasant Bay is Cape Cod's most eastern inlet and reports in the local Cape Cod Times state that prior to its sale last month it was the bay's last privately held island.

sipson island
Sipson Island Trust

The purchase and Sipson's designation as a conservation preserve welcoming public access to "a living nature classroom" is the direct result of a successful local initiative begun last December. Combining public and private funds, it was a community-led effort, very much in the spirit of neighboring Chatham's Strong Island, whose nature trails evolved from local efforts in the 1970s.

As of last Saturday, visitors to Sipson (you'll need a shallow-draft boat to go) are encouraged to land along the island's eastern shore beaches and (with some limitations) to enjoy a site that has been largely inaccessible for centuries.

sipson island
Sipson Island Trust

Visitors are asked to respect Massachusetts's social distancing guidelines on their visit.

There are no pets, fires, hunting or camping allowed. Visitors are asked to keep away from bluffs, follow pathways, which Sipson Island Trust volunteers have recently cut, refrain from tying up boats along the island's one permanent jetty, and stay away from the existing island structures — a few frame houses, which the SIT is in the process of "undeveloping."

In exchange, there's rare unspoiled New England isolation to enjoy, rich foliage and wildlife.

Sipson is located in a marine habitat and kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, birdwatching and even shallows fishing are encouraged. There are dune beaches for picnics, Native American history to uncover; hiking trails and — as summer visitors to the Cape know — New England's unpredictable weather.

sipson island
Sipson Island Trust

Just last week, while volunteers were hurriedly preparing the island trails in mid-July heat, a cool Atlantic fog suddenly rolled in, dropping temperatures dramatically, while shrouding scrubland pine.

“As we’ve been preparing the island for opening," Sipsom Trust President Tasia Blough told the Cape Cod Times, "I’ve been constantly amazed by the range of beauty we’re discovering. It’s like unlocking a secret garden! There are so many places to explore on the trail system and along the beaches.”

At present, the island trust holds all but a few acres. Negotiations are underway for the remaining land. Fundraising efforts continue.

Sipson's initial purchase sum of $4.8 million included $1.5 million in community preservation funds voted on by Orleans residents at a town council meeting in May. At the time, one local endorsing allocation, reflected, "I can't think of an open space purchase I look back on and regret. My only regrets were the ones that were not made."

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