On Thursday June 12th, Kris Ramsay, Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) Director, led an educational walk along the trails within the
Ice House Pond and Reuben’s Pond Conservation Area. As outlined by Kris during his introduction, this area includes four gifts made up of 6 parcels of land totaling just over 25 acres. The first of these gifts was given in 1973 and the last in 1996, both donations by the Moore family. The conservation area features 1.5 miles of walking trails, with frontage on Ice House and Reuben’s Ponds. Once cleared for farming, the land has now re-vegetated, with a wide variety of habitat types.
At 9:00am, hikers began arriving at the roadside parking area at 245 Tonset Road marked by an OCT sign and kiosk, one of the two trailhead parking areas for this loop. Kris began the walk by familiarizing the 20 hikers with some of the plant species they would be observing along the way, including the native Mockernut Hickory, Red Cedar, Pitch Pine, and Highbush Blueberry as well as the invasive Black Locust, Asiatic Bittersweet, and English Ivy; the latter virtually covers the first 200 feet of the trail, blanketing the ground and encasing trees.
As Ice House Pond came into view, the group used the new section of meandering trail that has replaced the previous sloped, straight pathway that led directly down to the pond. Kris pointed out that the primary reason for the new path, which was created only three weeks before, was to prevent erosion and sediment discharge into the water. At 4.6 acres, Ice House Pond is not considered a “great pond” (a natural pond or lake of at least 10 acres), thus the pond is not owned by the State, but in fact is owned by three property owners to the center of the pond. Luckily, thanks to the Moores, OCT owns the eastern portion of the pond, where fishermen can often be seen casting their fishing poles. Ice House Pond has a maximum depth of 20 feet and is considered one of the cleanest ponds in Orleans because it has high dissolved oxygen and is low in nutrients.
As mentioned earlier, a native tree species that Kris stopped to identify and discuss was the Mockernut Hickory (Carya alba), rarely seen on Cape Cod but several specimens do populate this particular trail. This hardy, true hickory of the walnut family can live up to 500 years but the individuals in this parcel’s habitat were no more than a few decades old. The trees have very large leaves (compared to oaks growing nearby) which are oblong with a small pointed tip and also produce some of the heaviest seeds of hickory species. Mockernut Hickory gets the name “mockernut” from the small kernel of meat encased in a larger thick-shelled fruit. However, the ruse does not deter animals from enjoying the nuts. Ducks, quails, turkeys, foxes, rabbits, deer, squirrels, and chipmunks feed on the nuts while woodpeckers, chickadees, snakes, and possibly small owls utilize trunk cavities for a home. Due to their dense clusters of large leaves, the Mockernut Hickory is an excellent shade tree, roosting and nesting niche, and provides general cover for wildlife.
As the group looped around Reuben’s Pond, a much smaller and shallower pond than Ice House Pond at 1.3 acres with a maximum depth of 5 feet, a hiker inquired about the wetland vegetation that appeared to be overwhelming the pond. Kris mentioned that the plants are Water-willows, which form in dense colonies on wetland edges. Reuben’s Pond is a popular birding spot because bird species enjoy the dense vegetation and swarms of insects around the pond. Hikers also heard a loud chorus of bullfrogs while on this section of trail.
This conservation area and the trails located within it provide a fantastic example of a natural habitat on Cape Cod that has been preserved to preclude future development. With an expanse of trails and wildlife, it is a great place to take a short walk in the woods.
If you missed this walk, join us for our next walk at the Namequoit Bog Conservation Area on Thursday, July 17, 2014 from 9:00am to 11:15am. Hikers are asked to park at 159 Namequoit Road, Orleans (Town of Orleans Paw Wah Pond Conservation Area Parking Lot). This walk will wind through the 22.5 acre parcel while observing two distinct habitats: wetland (old cranberry bog) and the edge of an evergreen upland.
Directions: From the intersection of Rt. 28 and Main Street Orleans head south on Rt. 28 towards Chatham (1.7 miles). Take a left onto Namequoit Road and follow for 1 mile to trail head parking on right.