Thursday, June 11th: it was a rainy afternoon, but that did not deter people from coming to hear about the Christian Property, a 16-acre property off Portanimicut Road in South Orleans. Kris Ramsay, OCT Administrator, led the walk, discussing the history of the property as well as the habitat and ecological significance of preserving this piece of land.
The Christian Property is owned by the Town of Orleans. It was bought in 1998, shortly after Orleans adopted the Cape Cod Land Bank, which was created to aid in the preservation of land by reducing the financial burden on the Town. The Christian Property was a priority for two reasons: one reason being 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.
The walk began just after 3pm. Everyone gathered in the small parking lot located down a dirt driveway just over half a mile down Portanimicut Road. There is not much tree cover in the area immediately around the parking lot.,The few trees there are primarily ornamental and somewhat rare in the area (eg,Yellow Poplar, American Holly, Asiatic Yew). Kris pointed out that this is evidence that they were planted, and that this property used to be maintained and groomed. Kris also noted that the Christian Property is an “undevelopment project”, bought by the Town with a house on it, with a plan to restore the property to its natural state. If you visit the site you will see that this project is working, with the biggest indication of human presence being the well-maintained walking trails and the split-rail fence in the parking lot.
As we walked along the trail, Kris brought certain plants to the group’s attention, such as Striped Wintergreen, Pin Cherry, and Northern Running Pine which people may not know are native to our area. He also brought up two native plants that act like invasives: Fox Grape Vine and Greenbrier. All of these plants, however attractive or interesting, pale in comparison to the main attraction of the Christian Property, which we approached next. A little over halfway through the walking trail, a small trail branches off to the right, bringing us to a small porch-like platform sticking out about ten feet into the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp located on the property. This 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).
With benches on three sides, this platform was a good place for us to take a short break while Kris outlined a few reasons why these swamps are so important. For one, the plant which gives these swamps their names, the Atlantic White Cedar, is of special concern in Massachusetts as well as other states along the east coast. Not only are the trees rare, but so are some animal species. Kris mentioned two of these: Hessel’s Hairstreak butterfly is entirely unique to these swamps, feeding exclusively on the Atlantic White Cedars. Unfortunately they are hard to detect as they feed high up in the canopy of these trees. The other animal mentioned was the Saw Whet Owl, not endangered, but there is a limited selection of habitats it will live in, one these being the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. Kris had a word of advice if you ever see one of these tiny owls and want to take a picture: Don’t Rush, you won’t need to, they hardly move from their spot.
Upon leaving the platform, we made our way back to the parking lot. With everyone getting ready to be on their way, Kris closed with final remarks about how successful this undevelopment project was, by both preserving this swamp and limiting future development in the vicinity of Pleasant Bay – an excellent course of action, and use of funds, by the Town of Orleans.
Please join us for our next walk on Saturday, August 3rd from 9:00-10:00am at the Town’s Peck Conservation Area.
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 and then take a right onto Blue Heron Way. Follow to Town parking area and trail head.