To help the public get to and enjoy the coast, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) helps protect and promote public access in a variety of ways—from providing information about coastal access sites, to informing the public of their rights along the shoreline, to supporting regulatory efforts to maintain and improve public access opportunities.

The CZM Public Access Program maintains these online resources:

  • Coast Guide Online - This interactive, online mapping tool can be used to find (and find out about) coastal areas that are open to the public. It includes hundreds of sites along the Massachusetts coast—from sandy beaches to secluded coves, rocky shores, and boat ramps—owned by government agencies and major nonprofits. These sites have been mapped in Google Earth, an easy-to-use and powerful online mapping tool, where each public location is tagged with a name, owner, web link, and picture (if available). Users may use additional Google Earth offerings, such as user photos, trails, and places of interest, to create a customized map. As of spring 2013, all federal, state, and county coastal public access sites have been mapped; town and land conservation organization sites will be added as soon as possible.
  • Massachusetts Coast Guide to Boston Harbor and the North Shore - This publication, last printed in 2005, includes nearly 400 public access sites from Salisbury to Hingham—ranging from expansive beaches to out-of-the-way scenic vistas. The online version includes 22 maps with site descriptions.
  • Coastal Trails of Massachusetts - From the birder-paradise of Plum Island to the historic Plymouth waterfront with its Mayflower replica to the self-guided nature walks of the Cape Cod National Seashore, this page provides links to almost 30 coastal trails in Massachusetts.
  • Public Rights along the Shoreline - This electronic fact sheet provides a brief primer on waterfront property law and public access rights.
  • Publications - This page provides links to these and other publications on coastal access published by CZM.

CZM supports state regulatory efforts to protect and enhance public access. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) regulates development in tidal waters and on former tidal areas that are now filled. In these “tidelands,” property rights are held by the state in trust for the benefit of the public. CZM worked with MassDEP to develop the regulations that protect these public rights—Chapter 91 or the Waterways Regulations. (A brief explanation of Chapter 91 is available on page 35 of Environmental Permitting in Massachusetts.) These regulations require that virtually every license MassDEP issues for shorefront property development—from the simplest pier to the most elaborate mixed-use complex on Boston’s waterfront—include conditions that establish an accessway at the water’s edge for public pedestrian use. CZM actively reviews project applications to help make sure that these requirements are met.

CZM also supports regulatory protection of public access rights through its responsibility for overseeing the preparation of Municipal Harbor Plans (MHPs)—official plans approved by the state that establish a community’s objectives, standards, and policies for guiding public and private use of land and water within Chapter 91 jurisdiction. Through this planning process, CZM can help communities develop a comprehensive blueprint for public access to their waterfront.

In addition, CZM provides technical assistance to help communities reclaim rights-of-way to the sea. CZM’s 200-page guide, Preserving Historic Rights of Way to the Sea: A Practical Handbook for Preserving Public Access in Massachusetts pdf format of Preserving Historic Rights of Way to the Sea
file size 4MB (2nd ed., June 1999), gives hands-on information for municipal officials, attorneys, and citizen access advocates looking to research and secure public property rights in old footpaths and other pedestrian accessways that still exist in law, but are no longer used by (or even known to) the public.