Christian Property Conservation Area Educational Walk

On Thursday, July 16, OCT’s new Director Liz Migliore led an educational walk of the Town’s Christian Property Conservation Area.  Ten members attended this leisurely morning walk.  The Town’s 16 acre Christian Property is located off Portanimicut Road, down a dirt driveway with a parking area at the trailhead.  This small complex spans the distance between Namequoit and Portanimicut Roads, where residential development has been steadily filling in over recent years.

The Town of Orleans acquired the 7.85-acre parcel in 1999 for $345,000 for conservation purposes, with $148,200 of the purchase price coming from a State Self-Help Grant. The Christian Property was a priority for two reasons: its close proximity to Pleasant Bay, in conjunction with the Town’s efforts to preserve the Bay’s waters; the other being the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp located within the property, a globally rare habitat. In June of 2000, the Town acquired, by eminent domain, the abutting 8.9 acre white cedar swamp to provide a wildlife corridor and natural habitat area for conservation and passive recreational purposes. This land also abuts OCT’s 4 acre Seikel Gift, which was given to the OCT in 1991 and can be accessed from Namequoit Road.

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The existing parking area was once an old house site, which is currently maintained as a grass habitat and is ringed with remnant ornamental species. This was an “undevelopment project” by the town.  Some of these trees and shrubs were the Asiatic yew, tulip (or yellow) poplar, American holly, Norway spruce, and English (Columnar) oak.  There is one of the largest Tulip Poplar trees on the Cape.

At the head of the trail is a shrub- American hazelnut. This shrub, which is part of the birch family, includes nuts that have a higher nutritional value than acorns and beechnuts and are eaten by squirrels, foxes, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkeys, woodpeckers, pheasants, and deer. The leaves, twigs, and catkins are browsed by rabbits and deer. The dense, low growth habit provides cover and nesting sites for many wildlife species.  Striped Wintergreen, Pin Cherry, and Northern Running Pine are actually native to our area. Two native plants that act like invasives include: Fox Grape Vine and Greenbrier.  Along the upland trail there are many local native tree species, including the white and pitch pines, red, black, and white oaks, red cedars, and black and pin cherries, and birches.

The northern trail, ventures into the lowlands, which stretch along an old Atlantic white cedar swamp. The wooden overlook is the only structure resembling a boardwalk over such a swamp in Orleans (similar to those along the Fort Hill and Marconi area trails in Eastham and Wellfleet).  There are a number of wetland shrubs, including high bush blueberry, swamp azalea, maleberry (which was actually a female plant), and sweet pepperbush. Unique to Atlantic white cedar swamps is the larvae of one butterfly, Hessel’s Hairstreak (Mitoura hesseli), which feeds exclusively on Atlantic white cedar. This rare, emerald-green butterfly often feeds high in the cedar canopy and is difficult to detect. In addition, the few currently existing populations of the state endangered Banded Bog Skimmer dragonfly are sometimes found in cedar swamp habitats as well. The Saw Whet Owl, not endangered, lives in a limited selection of habitats, one being the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp.

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Poking out of the wetland itself is water willow. The perennial plant is common along stream and lake margins, growing to 3 feet tall, and often forms dense colonies, as seen on the walk. While this wetland plant is very common here, because it is threatened by the water willow stem borer, the plant is identified by the State as a threatened species.

On the return to the parking area, walkers noticed the “ghost plant”, a perennial wildflower that is all white due to its non-photosynthetic nature.  With its lack of chlorophyll, this plant is actually parasitic, feeding off of fungi to survive.

Join us for a kayak trip to Little Sipson Island in Pleasant Bay on Monday, August 17, at 10:00 am.  This will be led by Bob Prescott, OCT President and Executive Director of MA Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  Directions: From the intersection of Rt. 28 and Main Street in Orleans, follow MA-Route 28 toward Chatham for 2.5 miles. Turn left onto Quanset Rd and veer right at the Y to stay on the road. Follow Quanset road to trail head on left (1.2mi). There is a 1-2 car designated parking area on the corner, or you can park at the Town Landing 200 yards farther down the road on the right.  Meet at the Town Landing.