On January 5, some 45 Trust members and others enjoyed a chilly but rewarding walk along the edges of Hosea’s Swamp, a unique Atlantic white cedar woodland off Quanset Road in South Orleans. Kris Ramsay, Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) director, and Marcus Hendricks, board member of the Native Land Conservancy (Mashpee), co-led the interpretive walk. Also present was Mark Robinson, director of The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, Inc.
As Kris noted in his introduction, the better part of the white cedar woodland was donated to OCT in 1993 by Rachia Heyelman. Not long after, in 1998, the Town of Orleans voted to adopt the Cape Cod Land Bank. Citizens clearly showed their commitment to preserving open space as 71 percent of Orleans voters supported the Land Bank—the largest plurality on Cape Cod.
In 2000, the Open Space/Land Bank Committee stepped up its acquisitions with the stated purposes of “protecting the valuable waters of Pleasant Bay” and protecting our drinking water supply. With these goals in mind, in 2001 the Town acquired an additional 25+ acres abutting Rachia’s gift to protect the groundwater around the Town’s number 7 well. When the Land Bank had concluded its work, Kris noted, 124.6 acres in the Pleasant Bay watershed had been protected and 91 acres removed from potential development.
Reporting on the event for the Compact, Mark Robinson noted the special contribution of Marcus Hendricks: “Marcus described the significance of white cedar trees to natives, including the use of the saplings for wetu support poles. He was also able to identify ancient foot paths used by natives and animals circling the swamp, and the narrow draw in the bank that led native foot traffic to the top of the slope.”
Marcus also identified the swamp bottom as a place out of the cold winds, which might have made it attractive for a winter camp, in combination with nearby access to wood and water. Native wetus (dwellings) were oriented around central firepits, he said, which were much more efficient than the sidewall fireplaces used by colonists, so they needed less firewood—a surprising fact to the hikers.
As the group gathered at the edge of the cedar swamp, Kris described its delicate hydrology. Too much water (from road runoff, perhaps) or too little water (from excessive pumping of the nearby municipal well) can harm the growth of Atlantic white cedars, which are slow growing to begin with in their nutrient-poor, acidic water environment.
In the understory of the swamp Kris identified a variety of native shrubs, including sweet pepperbush (Clethra), highbush blueberry, swamp azalea, and sheep laurel. Plants in the herbaceous layer included a variety of sedges, round-leaved sundew, cinnamon fern, and royal fern, along with the carpet of sphagnum mosses.
Rounding out the walk, hikers trekked along the upland portions of the woodlands to get a better understanding of the topography surrounding the swamp. Noticing how everything flows in the direction of the bog, we easily saw how important it is to continue to preserve the land surrounding these unique and threatened habitats. Otherwise pollutants and other unnatural materials will deposit into the wetland, degrading our water quality and threatening the existence of the bog itself.
Special thanks to Marcus for co-leading the walk. If you would like to learn more about and support the Native Land Conservancy, please visit their website.
Join us for our next walk on Thursday, February 5, from 10:00 – 11:15 a.m. at the Marion Hadley and Samuel Watson Peck Conservation Area (20 Peck’s Way, Orleans). This land comprises two large residential lots purchased in 2006 by the Town of Orleans to preserve all of the high hill overlooking the entrance to Arey’s Pond, an active small-craft boatyard and mooring area. The 8.2-acre property fringing the hill falls within a state-designated Area of Critical Environmental Concern and has been known to attract otters. The last Indian meetinghouse in Orleans was sited on the slopes of this hill.
Directions: From the intersection of Rt. 28 and Main Street Orleans, head south on Rt. 28 towards Chatham (1.4 miles). Take a left onto Arey’s Lane (0.5) miles, then a right onto Blue Heron Way. Follow to Town parking area and trailhead.