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Do You Have What it Takes to Live in Cape Cod’s Sand Dunes?

Nestled among the rugged sand dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore, you can find 19 rustic, historic cabins, almost all of which are owned by the National Park Service. Booking a stay in one can be quite hard—these dune shacks are hot commodities, and the Park Service runs a lottery for people to book stays. But now, eight of the shacks are up for grabs with leases of up to 10 years. The catch? You need to convince the Park Service that you’re the right person to live there. 

The National Park Service recently put out a request for proposals detailing the shacks available and how you can make your case. You’ll have to explain in your proposal why you want the shack, what you plan to do with your time there, and how you expect to manage life in the dunes—which can be primitive at best. You’ll also have to commit to maintaining the shack to the historic standard it’s currently at (sorry, no renovations allowed, unless you can get the Park Service to agree in writing), and prove that you’ll be able to pay the rent. 

The eight houses range from small to tiny. The largest one is 650 square feet, while the smallest is just about 100 square feet. Annual rent starts around $2,100 for the most rustic of shacks, and goes up to $16,000 for a set of two shacks that come as a package deal. However, you’ll only be allowed to live in the shacks from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Image by Sarah E. Devlin

Life on the dunes can be rugged. There are no paved roads leading to the shacks, and some of the dunes are quite steep, so you’ll need to be adept at navigating them with a car that can handle the terrain. Some of the shacks have access to solar panels and wells, but you’re likely not going to find high-speed wifi or even cell service. The Park Service will run tours of the properties by appointment only on June 15, and proposals are due July 3. 

Traditionally, these shacks were used by artists who retreated to the isolation of the dunes to focus on their work, or who relied on the beauty of the area to create paintings or photographs. Famous artists and writers who have spent time in the shacks include Jackson Pollack, e.e. cummings, Jack Kerouac, and Eugene O’Neill, among many others. Art’s Dune Tours, based in Provincetown, runs fascinating (and exhilarating) tours through the dunes, with a thorough history of how Provincetown became known as the inclusive, LGBTQ+ haven it is today.

If the idea of the shacks tempts you but you’re not quite willing to commit to a long-term rental, you can apply for an artist residency. Applications are currently closed for 2023, but should open later this year for residencies in the summer of 2024. 

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