Buzzards Bay Coalition outlines dramatic plan for Onset education center

Onset Bay Association's annual meeting honors volunteers
Apr 21, 2017

When it comes to exploring the natural world, today’s youth is facing “a crisis of disconnection” says Buzzards Bay Coalition President Mark Rasmussen. There’s a solution; however, and it’s slowly taking shape on Onset shores.

On Thursday, Rasmussen provided an update on the Coalition’s bold plan to transform the bay into a gigantic outdoor classroom, open to kids of all ages and economic backgrounds. He spoke at the Onset Bay Association’s annual meeting. Held in Salerno’s Function Hall, the event celebrated the group’s successes from the past year, recognized the contributions of volunteers and took care of some staid operational business.

The centerpiece was Rasmussen’s talk, which was punctuated by applause and cheers several times as he presented a vision of a radically transformed Onset Bathhouse. The Coalition has plans to turn the rickety building, which had been Onset’s heart in years past, into a headquarters for a myriad of water programs, designed to get kids exploring and falling in love with Buzzards Bay.

“Our plan is not to build a yacht club, but an everything-on-the-water club,” said Rasmussen.

He said the Coalition is modeling it after the Duxbury Bay Maritime School, a nonprofit focused on providing classes on boating, swimming and marine ecology. Kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing and swimming lessons in store for Onset, as well as programs focused on the environment.

Over the past two years, the Coalition has made tremendous headway for the project he said, noting that Wickets Island and 30 plus acres on Burgess Point have already been purchased. In October, voters at Town Meeting approved spending $400,000 of Community Preservation Funds to help the Coalition purchase Wickets Island.

Rasmussen said up next the Coalition is focused on raising funds to rebuild the Bathhouse. When finished, it will be renamed the Onset Bay Discovery Center and serve as a place to house year-round staff, store boats and other equipment for programs. The Bathhouse renovations will cost an estimated $2.1 million, said Rasmussen.

In the meantime, the Coalition “didn’t want to miss another season on the water” without programs in Onset. To remedy that, Rasmussen announced that the Community Boating Center in New Bedford will send sailboats and staff to Onset this summer for a youth sailing program.

“That’s our ‘toe in the water’ for new programming,” said Rasmussen.

While the soonest work can begin on the Bathhouse renovations is September 2018, Rasmussen said there are plans to being renovating the pier at Wickets Island this fall, which would provide access to the public when complete.

All in all, Rasmussen said the Coalition hopes to turn the bay into a “holistic, outdoor education center.”

Volunteers recognized

Before Rasmussen spoke, many Onset Bay Association members received accolades for their work throughout the year. The all-volunteer grass roots group organizes more than 30 family-oriented events in the village annually, all but one of which are free.

Past President Eleanor Martin was honored for her work on several events, including the Kayak Poker Run, the Blessing of the Fleet, Midsummer Shakespeare, Sandcastle Day and more.

Paul Ciccotelli received recognition for his work in reviving the Free Onset Film Festival, held weekly throughout the summer. Onset Blues Festival Chair Bill Lockwood was honored for his work in making sure the event, now in its 25th year, is a success.

The Volunteer of the Year Award went to Noah Young. Onset Bay Association President Kate Jones said: “This man has selflessly given of himself in every instance. He’s enthusiastic and happy to be at every event and truly cares about how well they go…We really can’t thank you enough for all you do.”

With summer on the way, the association is gearing up for another fun-filled season. For more information on the Onset Bay Association, to donate or check out a calendar of events, visit