Virtual Herring River Race 5K

The Friends of Herring River (with special thanks to Patti Elliott) have organized the first annual Virtual Herring River 5K race for May 1 – 31, 2021. It’s to celebrate the planned restoration of the river.

The race is run virtually, with times to be reported on the honor system.

The race can be done in stages. At 5k (3.1 miles) you could race each of the 31 days of May for 0.1 miles (about 200 steps). Walking is one option.

Hard work with a big payoff: The Fox Island Marsh conservation area

Visitors and residents of Wellfleet enjoy the enticing walking trails in conservation areas established by the Wellfleet Conservation Trust. We have many people to thank for making these possible.

One of the most notable of these areas was developed in 2010. The Town, the State Fish and Game Department, and WCT created a 181-acre conservation area. It included Fox Island March, Pilgrim Spring Woodlands, and Whale Bone Point. Mark Robinson said at the time:

[It is] the largest publicly-accessible conservation area outside of the National Seashore on the Lower Cape…. Almost two miles of public trails have been established, viewing benches installed and parking defined. More importantly, the recurring partnership between the town and WCT on land deal has enabled us to work closely on other open space projects throughout Wellfleet.

Mark H. Robinson, WCT Newsletter, Fall 2010

Mark’s complete article in that newsletter describes the complicated process to acquire such a beautiful property. It includes a map of the area and the trails, as well as several photos.

Wellfleet Conservation Trust preserves four new parcels in Fall, 2020

By Denny O’Connell

Following the landmark Herring River Overlook acquisition in late summer, the Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT) has acquired four additional new properties this Fall. These properties are at various locations around town, adding an additional 12 acres of land in conservation. Founded in 1984, WCT now conserves a total of over 417 acres of land.

 

Jack Hennessey donated a 1.08 acre buildable lot in the northern part of Wellfleet at 121 Meadow View. It is the entirety of a kettle hole formed in glacial times when a stagnant ice bock finally melted leaving a depression in the sand and gravel landscape. It hosts white and black oak and red maple and provides a mix of upland and swamp habitat; the steep banks offer good burrows for fox and coyotes to den. The ridge on its north side leads over to the Herring River valley.

Mr. Hennessey, a retired professor, lives next door. “It is good to see this lot permanently protected,” said Mr. Hennessey, “I bought it for privacy protection and now I can rest easy knowing WCT will continue to take care of it.” WCT plans to keep this property in its natural state, thus protecting the habitat and ground water resources.

Janis Swain sold WCT a small buildable lot at 11 Paine Avenue off Old Wharf Road at a discount. This is the first of a two-part purchase in which the Swain family has agreed to sell both lots to us at a bargain. The second purchase will be consummated in 2023, when the family can benefit from the Massachusetts Conservation Land Tax Credit program.

These lots are at the edge of the late-1800s Miles-Merrill subdivision around Old Wharf Point and its approach. The plan predated zoning in Wellfleet and the lots are as small as 5000 square feet! Many were combined and built on, resulting in a maze of cottages on sand roads.

The Swain lots border an abandoned swamp garden where the early residents diked off upper reaches of salt marsh and dried them out to create planting fields. The dikes have broken down over time and some of the tallest invasive Phragmites reeds in town grow in the swamp now.

In 1992, Janis and her late husband, Douglas Swain, benefitted WCT when they donated a one acre parcel on Mill Hill Island. Since then, the WCT and Town, in the care and custody of the Conservation Commission, have acquired all of the 6-acre island in Loagy Bay, so the Island is permanently conserved.

Most recently, WCT purchased two lots from the Richard B. Butterfield estate. The first lot is a buildable, sloping 0.63 acre marsh-front lot located at 130 Bayberry Lane. The second parcel is ten-acres of salt marsh wrapping around the Bayberry Lane neighborhood and up Silver Springs.

The marsh parcel connects to a ¾-acre parcel purchased by WCT in 1994, which in turn connects with other WCT parcels at the intersection of Lt. Island Road and Bayberry Lane. On the east side, the lot connects to the WCT-Town Bayberry Hill Conservation Area.

Salt marshes have been recognized to have very high conservation values for coastal resilience and for being productive breeding grounds for fin and shell fisheries. These parcels will be retained in their natural state.

New open space map

Thanks to the hard work of Mary Doucette, Year 22 Member of AmeriCorps Cape Cod, we now have a new open space map for Wellfleet.

The map is in portable document format (pdf), meaning that it should be easily viewable on most computers, tablets, and phones. At 900 dots per inch, the detail is amazing, showing roads, buildings, ponds, beaches, and more.

It displays lands managed by the Cape Cod National Seashore, Wellfleet Conservation Trust (both Trust lands and conservation restrictions), the Town Conservation Commission, Mass Audubon, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

It’s worth noting , as you can see on the map, that many of the lands abut others, making possible extended walking trails and unrestricted views.

You can see a thumbnail version of the map on the home page of the Wellfleet Conservation Trust site. If you click on that small map, you should be able to see the much more detailed pdf version. That one can be viewed online, zooming in or out, or downloaded for more detailed offline study or printing.

COASTSWEEP 2020  Update

Image from last year's COASTSWEEP
Image from last year’s COASTSWEEP

In October, WCT and its cosponsors normally hold a coordinated “sweep” of debris and trash around Wellfleet Harbor beaches under the Statewide COASTSWEEP program. For the past five years we have done the SWEEP during mid-October and then reported our results to the State’s Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

Due to COVID-19 related issues, we cannot hold a regular program, so we encourage you to enjoy the beaches and safely remove debris and trash (hopefully not much, as we encountered last year).  We will evaluate the program in 2021, but for now, please enjoy our special place and stay healthy and safe.

Herring River Overlook

The Herring River Overlook Property on Chequessett Neck Road, Wellfleet

Jacqualyn Fouse of Wellfleet has donated the largest gift of upland ever to the Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT). Ms. Fouse gave WCT 18.5 acres of native pine forest overlooking the Herring River estuary above the Chequessett Neck Road dike. In announcing the gift, WCT President Dennis (Denny) O’Connell said, “The Trust is extremely grateful to Ms. Fouse for making this incredible conservation success happen. Jackie stepped up in a magnificent way. We honor Jackie for her commitment to conservation. It is exciting to think that this beautiful land has never been developed, and never will be.”

Herring River Overlook Property looking downstream

Ms. Fouse had recently acquired the land from the Chequessett Club. The land was surplus to Chequessett’s current and planned golf course renovations. WCT will keep the area in its natural state, preserving the habitat and natural functions of the land. The Trust will create limited walking trails to scenic views across the Herring River valley. Access to the land and limited parking will be along Chequessett Neck Road only, not through the golf course.

See full press release here.

See short video about the donation and the property.

Herring River Overlook Property looking upstream

Finding solace in nature

In these locked-up times we miss large gatherings, concerts, dining out, and social visits. Many of us have lost jobs and contact with loved ones. It’s easy to assume that all our social interactions must be through Zoom, our meditations guided by YouTube, and our thinking trapped in endless narratives of the end-of-times.

However, the natural world remains to explore and enjoy. We can still watch the unceasing but ever-changing waves at the beach, walk through forests, listen to birds, check out the bees in the new bee house, and watch adorable rabbits eating our recently planted vegetables. With fewer cars and trucks travelling long distances the air is cleaner and living things are flourishing.

In his book, Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau says, “I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs.” Rousseau’s walking was in the woods, not on a treadmill or in a shopping mall. His journeys remind us that our life cannot be separated from the natural world.

Walking in nature can be a social activity as well (six feet apart, of course). Informal connection can be deeper and more attuned to the needs we all feel in these times. We may still feel lost, but we have a chance to find both others and ourselves when we remember our role in nature.

The Trust asked supporters, trustees, and other lovers of nature what particular consolation from nature they are finding during these Covid times. You can some of the responses in the June 2020 newsletter.

Trail maintenance

During Covid-19 times the Wellfleet Conservation Trust has had to postpone many customary activities involving in person meetings. However, nature has its own schedule, which we have to follow.

Mike Fisher assessing the tree's predicament
Mike Fisher assessing the tree’s predicament

One issue that nature imposes is trail maintenance, especially when it impacts public safety. An example of this came when we received a report of a fallen tree on the trail at the Ralph and Dorothy Clover Conservation Area.

Stephen Bruce and Denny O'Connell throwing a rope over the fallen tree
Stephen Bruce and Denny O’Connell throwing a rope over the fallen tree

The tree had been broken in a windstorm. It was still in one piece, but twisted and partially cracked through. Most of it was jammed in place between two other trees. There did not appear to be an immediate danger, but it was clear that it could dislodge at some point and fall onto the trail.

On May 22, a small group of us went to the site armed with a new chainsaw, ropes, a come-along, loppers, work gloves, ear and eye protectors, and of course face masks. It took us about an hour, but we eventually took down the tree, and turned it into a safe lining for the trail.

Denny O'Connell, Chip Bruce, and Gary Joseph using a rope and come-along an an attempt to dislodge the tree
Denny O’Connell, Chip Bruce, and Gary Joseph using a rope and come-along an an attempt to dislodge the tree

Gary Joseph, Chip Bruce, and Stephen Bruce adding their weight to the come-along's pull
Gary Joseph, Chip Bruce, and Stephen Bruce adding their weight to the come-along’s pull

Denny O'Connell applying the chainsaw
Denny O’Connell applying the chainsaw

[Photos by Susie Quigley]

Earth Day, 2020

“You only have two mothers; be kind to both of them” Writing in the sand at Fox Island Marsh trailhead

Land is #MyHappyPlace. On this #EarthDay, we need #Land4All more than ever. Land trusts save the special places we need and love.

Wellfleet Conservation Trust is an IRS approved non-profit organization established in 1984 to assist and promote the preservation of natural resources and rural character of the town of Wellfleet. Its mission is to conserve land in its natural state in perpetuity for enjoyment by current and future generations.

The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, Inc. (The Compact) was founded in 1986 as a nonprofit regional support organization for six local land trusts on Cape Cod. Today, The Compact provides 26 local and regional land trusts as well as watershed associations with technical expertise to preserve critical lands that protect the public water supply, protect scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, provide walking trails, and protect Cape Cod’s character, all of which draw countless visitors who drive our regional economy. There is no other nonprofit that offers similar services on Cape Cod. The national Land Trust Alliance has called The Compact a national model of a sustainable land trust coalition.

State of Wellfleet Harbor Conference, 2019

For the 17th year, Wellfleet hosted its State of the Harbor Conference. It was held at the Wellfleet Elementary School on a beautiful, sunny, fall day––Saturday, November 2, 2019.

Participants included ordinary citizens, fishermen, students from K-12 through graduate school, town officials, and staff of the Mass Audubon, the National Park Service, the Center for Coastal Studies, Wellfleet Conservation Trust, and other organizations. They came to report on what they are learning about the ecosystem of the harbor.

Audience at Wellfleet Elementary School

Audience at Wellfleet Elementary School

Abigail Franklin Archer, from Cape Cod Extension, was the Conference Moderator. The schedule was filled with interesting presentations and posters.

There was coffee, snacks, and ample time for informal discussions as well. Americorps workers focusing on the environment helped with the organization, logistics, and even serving Mac’s clam chowder for the lunch.

Q/A with Martha Craig and Kirk Bozma

Q/A with Martha Craig and Kirk Bozma on Herring River restoration

On Sunday, there was a follow-up field trip to look at Wellfleet Harbor’s history and its “black mayonnaise”.

Interactions Within Ecosystems

As was the case in previous years, this was a learning event throughout.

Continuing what’s now a 17-year tradition, the conference showed the complex connections between humans and other living things including phytoplankton, striped bass, menhaden, horseshoe crabs, oysters, quahogs, seals, terrapins, molas (sunfish), phragmites, bacteria, protozoa, resident and migrating birds, as well as the land, sea, and air.

Presenters discussed ideas that went beyond the everyday understanding of harbor ecosystems. These ideas included bioturbation––the disturbance of soil, especially on the sea floor by organisms such as crabs and other invertebrates. There was talk of organism lipid levels as a measure of their nutrient value for predators. One poster emphasized the rise in Mola mola population attributable to increased numbers of jellyfish.

John Brault with Krill Carson's poster on the Mola explosion

John Brault with Krill Carson’s poster on the Mola explosion

One presentation discussed a major meta-analysis of ocean phenology studies. This research looks at when significant events such as spawning, migration, or molting, occur in an organism’s life cycle. Those times are shifting as a result of global heating, changes in ocean currents and nutrient availability. In some cases there are critical mismatches between the cycle for a predator species and its prey, which has major consequences for both and for the larger ecosystem.  A population may increase earlier than in the past, but its food source doesn’t necessarily match up with that.

Correlating sightings of right whales with copepod density

Correlating sightings of right whales with copepod density

Most notably, the Conference considered the impact of these diverse aspects of nature on people and vice versa. In every presentation or poster, one could see major ways in which human activity affects other aspects of nature.

Civic Intelligence

The Harbor Conference is a good example of how to improve what Doug Schuler calls civic intelligence, becoming more aware of the resources in our community, learning of its problems, finding ways to work together, and developing civic responsibility.

In any locality, civic intelligence is inseparable from the nature all around. But in Wellfleet this connection is more evident than in most. Every issue––transportation, affordable housing, employment, health care, fishing and shellfishing, waste management, history, and more––affects and is affected by our capacity to live sustainably. The harbor and the surrounding ocean, rivers, and uplands are deeply embedded with that.

There is a depressing theme through much of the Conference. The studies reported in detail on the many ways that humans damage the beautiful world we inhabit, through greenhouse gas emissions causing global heating and higher acidity, increased storm activity, and sea level rise. There is pollution of many kinds, black mayonnaise, and habitat destruction.

Mark Faherty offered a promising note for the horseshoe crab population. But even it has a downside: As the whelk population falls there will be less call on horseshoe crabs as bait, so that may help their recovery.

Nevertheless, it is inspiring to see the dedication of people trying to preserve what we can, and to learn so much about the ecology of the unique region of Wellfleet Harbor.

Maps for Learning

A striking feature of every presentation and poster was the use of maps. These included maps showing tidal flows, migration patterns, seasonal variations, sediment accumulation, human-made structures, and much more.

Maps of process and monitoring

Maps of process and monitoring

If we extend the idea of maps to visual displays of information, then it evident that even more maps were used. These included flowcharts for processes such as the one for adaptive management shown above, organization charts, and timelines for events in temporal sequences.

1887 Map of Wellfleet

1887 Map of Wellfleet

The maps are not only for communication of results. They are also a useful tool for the research itself. The most useful applications involved overlays of maps or comparisons of maps from different situations or times.

As an example, the population of horseshoe crabs could be compared with the management practices in a given area. Is the harvest restricted to avoiding the days around the new and full moon? Can they be harvested for medical purposes? For bait? The impact of different regulatory practices across time and place could easily be seen in graphical displays.

The Conference as a Site for Learning

You would find similar activities at many conferences. But the Harbor Conference stands out in terms of the cross-professional dialogue, the collaborative spirit among presenters and audience, and the ways that knowledge creation is so integrated with daily experience and action in the world.

This learning is not in a school or a university; there are no grades or certificates of completion. There are no “teachers” or “students” per se. However, by engaging with nature along with our fellow community members, conference attendees explore disciplines of history, statistics, politics, commerce, geology, biology, physics, chemistry, meteorology, oceanography, and more.

Nature itself is the curriculum guide. It is also the ultimate examiner.

[Note: This text is cross-posted on Chip’s Journey.]