Improving Parks and Recreation on Nantucket

Sponsor: Town Manager’s Office and
Office of Culture and Tourism
Jocelyn Abdallah, John Loftus, Brianna Burke, Jessica Greenleaf
Sponsor Liaisons: Gregg Tivnan, Janet Schulte
Student Team: Jocelyn Abdallah, Brianna Burke, Jessica Greenleaf, John Loftus
Abstract: The management of parks and recreation on Nantucket has evolved in an ad hoc fashion leading to unclear lines of authority. This project, in collaboration with the Nantucket, MA Town Manager’s Office, conducted a holistic review of Nantucket parks and recreation management.  We reviewed town records and interviewed stakeholders to clarify the history and roles and responsibilities related to parks and recreation. We developed a comprehensive inventory of facilities, an online interactive map, and a historical timeline to assist parks and recreation facilitators. We conclude that the end users of parks and recreation facilities are generally satisfied, but recommend several ways to improve parks and recreation management and overall collaboration.
Link: Final report: TMO Final Report 2017
Final presentation:  TMO Final Presentation 2017

Executive Summary

Nationally there is a high level of support among town officials and members of the public for parks and recreation services. According to the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA), 99% of town officials say that communities benefit directly from Parks and Recreation, yet parks and recreation budgets are often first to be cut (NRPA, 2017).

Like other municipalities, the Town of Nantucket struggles to adequately support its many parks, recreational facilities, and beaches.  The influx in population during the summer months poses even more challenges in providing sufficient maintenance and programming for both tourists and residents.  Budget cuts in 2011 caused the town to dissolve its Parks and Recreation Department, moving most of its operations and daily maintenance responsibilities to the Nantucket Department of Public Works. Other municipal departments and quasi-government entities control management and programming of the town’s parks and recreational facilities. Management has become inordinately complicated as roles and responsibilities have been divided among these different entities, while communication and collaboration between them is often confused. The lack of clarity concerning management roles is compounded by the absence of a complete and comprehensive inventory of properties.

In light of these challenges, the goal of our project was to recommend how Nantucket’s parks and recreation management should be modified.  In order to accomplish this goal we identified four objectives.  We:

  1. Identified best practices in the management of parks and recreational facilities in similar communities;
  2. Developed a historical timeline and interactive map of public parks, beaches, and recreational facilities in Nantucket;
  3. Evaluated the roles and responsibilities of the Parks and Recreation Commission and other entities involved in parks and recreation management; and,
  4. Reviewed the Parks and Recreation Commission’s current guiding legislation, mission, and procedures.

Our primary methods involved in-depth, semi-structured interviews with representatives of the entities responsible for parks and recreation facilities and other key stakeholders, along with archival research into town records and legislation. We present the findings of our research in six areas.

Nantucket Parks and Recreation History

The Nantucket Parks and Recreation Commission was established at the 1960 Annual Town Meeting, but was eliminated when the Town created a Board of Public Works and gave it the powers of a parks commission in 1965. A 1987 Annual Town Meeting reestablished the Parks and Recreation Commission. A Parks and Recreation Department formed within the following two years, and the two acted as one entity.

In 2011, the Parks and Recreation Department was absorbed into the Department of Public Works in an effort to streamline government and cut costs, at which point the DPW assumed all responsibilities formerly held by the Parks and Recreation Department.  The Nantucket Community School and the Department of Culture and Tourism later assumed responsibility for recreation programming, while lifeguards and special events permitting were moved to the Harbormaster and Licensing Office, respectively.

Maintenance Responsibilities

The current director of the Nantucket Department of Public Works, Robert McNeil, indicated his desire to keep current parks and recreation maintenance responsibilities within the DPW.  Given the current state of many parks and recreational facilities, he advocates the town develop a Master Plan for the systematic renovation and maintenance of the town’s parks and recreational facilities.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Parks and Recreation Commission

The roles and responsibilities of the Commission are inadequately and incompletely specified in the enabling legislation. The Parks and Recreation Commission was established in the 1987 Annual Town Meeting, although no clear guidance was developed at that time to indicate the precise roles and responsibilities of the Commission and no charter or specific guidelines have been set for the Commission in the last 30 years. Both the current chair and vice chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission received no documentation regarding their roles as commissioners when appointed. According to the Town of Nantucket Boards, Commissions, and Committees Handbook, the purpose of advisory commissions is to present recommendations to the Board of Selectmen without any independent authority of their own. Thus, the Commission should be focused on making recommendations rather than policies, yet we could find no record of the Commission submitting such recommendations for consideration.

Parks and Recreation Communication and Documentation

The management of parks and recreation in Nantucket is hampered by limited communication and collaboration among parties and inadequate documentation of agreements between the Town of Nantucket, conservation organizations, and quasi-governmental agencies. Issues can arise when two abutting properties are owned by different groups but are considered the same facility. Maintaining appropriate documentation of agreement is an ongoing problem.  For example, lease agreements and MOUs are not always renewed in a timely fashion, while other agreements are not documented at all.

Nantucket’s Extensive Recreation Programming Network

Currently, recreation programming responsibilities are dispersed amongst several entities. The Nantucket Community School is currently responsible for all recreation programming on Nobadeer Fields, Delta Fields, Tom Nevers Park, the Jetties Beach Tennis Courts, and Winter Park. Meanwhile, community recreation programming at Children’s Beach and Jetties Beach is under the Department of Culture and Tourism, along with the town’s annual 4th of July fireworks display. Regardless of the parties responsible for recreation programming of public land, all special events permitting is done by the Licensing Office. The Licensing Agent holds regular meetings with representatives from involved parties to discuss and approve Special Event Applications. The Parks and Recreation Commission has assumed authority of some properties over time on the basis of past practice. Its role has become one of event and program approval despite the Licensing Office’s involvement, creating redundancy.

Private Citizen Efforts for Parks and Recreation Improvements

We found that private citizen efforts for parks and recreation improvement and beautification are emerging. Community members have started a work group to discuss the redevelopment of Tom Nevers Park. Parks and Recreation commissioner Cheryl Emery, independent from the Commission, had a site analysis done and started a public interest survey of Tom Nevers. In an effort to fund parks and recreation projects, community members Cheryl Emery, Jesse Dutra, Emily Osgood, Rich Turer and Dylan Wallace have filed with the IRS for a 501(c)(3) named Nantucket Community Park and Recreation. Other citizens envision a parks and recreation conservancy.


Conclusion and Recommendations

The Parks and Recreation Commission needs more direction and clear guidelines on commissioners’ roles and responsibilities.  We recommend that the Town:

  • Reevaluate and clarify the role and functions of the Parks and Recreation Commission;
  • Draft a new mission statement for the Parks and Recreation Commission; and,
  • Complete the Parks and Recreational Manual started by Carlisle Jensen.

The Town of Nantucket designates the Parks and Recreation Commission as an advisory commission and all of the legislation from the Nantucket Town Code defines the Commission’s authority within these constraints. However, Chapter 45 of Massachusetts General Law under which the Parks and Recreation Commission was established gives Park Commissions much more power and authority than the Town gives to advisory commissions. Therefore, the Commission can only logically follow one set of rules, not both. Given these direct conflicts, it is not possible at present to deliver a comprehensive set of rules or regulations without making decisions favoring one set of laws over the other. Therefore, we recommend that the Town Manager’s Office first seek clarification from town counsel on the legal ramifications and the preferred direction vis-à-vis the Parks and Recreation Commission before continuing the manual so that the Town can make the appropriate decisions to reconcile the two conflicting sets of laws.


There is no accurate, updated inventory of all of the parks and recreation facilities on the island. We recommend that the Town:

  • Utilize the Beaches, Parks, and Recreation Map that we created to provide an interactive map for citizens, tourists, and government officials. This map provides ownership, recreation contact and public accommodations for each facility;
  • Embed the Beaches, Parks, and Recreation Map we provided in the Town of Nantucket’s Website on the Parks and Recreation webpage;
  • Update the Beaches, Parks, and Recreation map as inventory changes; and,
  • Update and publish an Open Space Report in accordance with MA state guidelines; this is vital when applying for both grants and state funding.


There is inadequate documentation of agreements between the Town and other entities.

Many of the agreements that keep parks and recreation on Nantucket functioning are unspoken or undocumented. We recommend that the Town:

  • Legally document all agreements between different parties related to parks and recreation management, programming, and land use; and,
  • Update documented agreements by reevaluating them before they expire and renewing documentation in a timely manner.


The DPW is adequately performing maintenance and upkeep of all of the Town’s parks and recreational facilities, but there are no long-term plans for parks and recreation facility updates and renovations. We recommend that the Town:

  • Allocate funding to create a Master Plan for future projects and management at all parks and recreation facilities, covering both facility and strategic planning. We recommend that this Master Plan incorporate:
    • Consideration of future users of parks and recreation facilities into the Master Plan in order to accommodate expanding recreation programming needs;
    • Consideration of future maintenance needs as lands age and change; and,
    • Detailed phase planning to aid in securing funding for future projects.