Wareham Selectmen grant 99-year lease of historic Onset Bathhouse to Coalition to create Onset Bay exploration center

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At a special meeting this morning, the Wareham Board of Selectmen officially greenlighted the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s plans to create a new on-the-water exploration center on Onset Bay by signing a 99-year lease of the historic Onset Bathhouse to the Coalition.

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Wareham Selectmen, Rep. Susan Williams Gifford, Sen. Mark Pacheco and Buzzards Bay Coalition President Mark Rasmussen at Onset Beach

The Wareham Board of Selectmen, pictured here with Rep. Susan Williams Gifford, Sen. Mark Pacheco, and Coalition President Mark Rasmussen, granted the Coalition the right to use and renovate the historic Onset Bathhouse to serve as the Onset Bay Center’s headquarters.

The meeting, held on Onset Beach, grants the Coalition the right to use and renovate the historic bathhouse to serve as the Onset Bay Center’s headquarters. The Coalition will now move forward with its design and fundraising plans. When complete, the rehabilitated bathhouse will feature educational and event facilities, boat storage, and office space. Kayak rentals will continue to be provided by Nemasket Kayak Center this summer.

“The Wareham Board of Selectmen is pleased to have the Buzzards Bay Coalition partner with the town in the use of the Onset Bathhouse,” said Peter Teitelbaum, chair of the Wareham Board of Selectmen. “We look forward to the completion of the project and the marine educational programming related activities that will result.”

The Onset Bay Center will become a center for high-quality on-the-water programming for residents of the Wareham community. Modeled on the Duxbury Bay Maritime School, the center aims to engage thousands of people of all ages each year in a variety of active outdoor adventures, including sailing, paddling, shellfishing, and shoreline ecology exploration.

“We couldn’t be more excited about the vision that continues to come together to create a first-of-its kind on-the-water exploration center here in Onset,” said Coalition President Mark Rasmussen on receiving the signed lease. “It is our goal that everyone who lives in this part of the Bay will always have access to high-quality facilities, lands, and experiences that connect them on a personal level to the natural wonders of our coast. We are indebted to the Wareham Board of Selectmen, numerous town boards and committees, and community groups such as the Onset Bay Association for their support and encouragement throughout this process.”

Last summer, the Coalition purchased Wickets Island for permanent protection as part of its Onset Bay Center plans with funding support from the Wareham Community Preservation Fund. The Coalition is currently working to restore the island by removing invasive plants and rehabilitating the granite pier and staircase to make the island safe for programming and open public access. This restoration is planned for completion this year.

The Coalition has also purchased Burgess Point, which will be an additional location for Coalition-led outdoor exploration and sailing programs. In the spring, the Coalition completed Phase I of the restoration of Burgess Point’s unique native coastal habitat by clearing invasive trees and shrubs.

Wickets Island in Onset Bay

The Coalition purchased Wickets Island last summer to become part of our first permanent on-the-water exploration center on Onset Bay.

Wareham residents voted to approve the 99-year bathhouse lease at Annual Town Meeting in April 2016. The lease then went to the Massachusetts Legislature, where Sen. Marc Pacheco and Rep. Susan Williams Gifford filed a special act seeking state approval for the town to grant the lease.

In an interesting historical twist, the granting of the lease required the legal consent of the original developer of Onset village whose name still exists on the deed for Onset’s beaches and parks. The Onset Bay Grove Association (OBGA) was founded in 1887 and dissolved as a company in 1975. With the support of David and Skip Warr, the grandsons of the last president of the OBGA, the corporation was officially revived through the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office and lease was signed by David.

“My brother Skip and I are pleased to be able to be a part of making this project possible through the Warr family’s long connection with the Onset Bay Grove Association,” said David Warr. “Both our grandfather and our father were active for many years in the association. The renovation of the Onset Bathhouse as part of the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s plans for the Onset Bay Center will be a boon to Onset and the greater Wareham community.”

The Onset Bathhouse today is in disrepair and fundraising is ongoing to finance the design, permitting and construction needed to realize the planned restoration. The goal is to complete renovations in time for the summer 2019 season. The Coalition is continuing to fundraise for the estimated $2 million renovation project.

Starting this July, the Coalition will begin its first Onset Bay programming by offering free sailing lessons to youth in the Boys & Girls Club Wareham Summer Fun Program. For four weeks this summer, Wareham kids will learn the basics of sailing on Onset Bay during two-week-long programs led by skilled instructors with the Community Boating Center of New Bedford.

Category: On the Bay

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