This naturally and historically important stretch of woodland lies just east of busy Route 28, north of the South Orleans Post Office complex, but to walk its quiet paths is to go back in time. Members of the Potanimicut Tribe lived, fished, and farmed here for generations, and colonist John Kenrick planted the white pines that distinguish this area—as do some rare American chestnut trees. The main trail, with several side branches, rambles south–north from John Kenrick Road to the south shore of Arey’s River, crossing Namequoit Road along the way. An OCT guided walk is a great introduction to this area.
Held by: Town of Orleans; OCT holds a CR over 20+ acres.
Location: 35 Namequoit Road, South Orleans
Trail length: 1 mile
Year acquired: 2002–2007
From the intersection of Rt. 28 and Main Street in Orleans, head south on Rt. 28 toward Chatham (1.7 miles). Turn left onto Namequoit Road and follow for .3 miles to parking area and trailhead on right. Or park behind the South Orleans Post Office and access the trails from John Kenrick Road, just to the north.
Between 2002 and 2007, the Town of Orleans acquired three contiguous parcels totaling 46 acres of woodland, bordered by John Kenrick Road, Route 28, and Namequoit Road, for conservation and recreation. Collectively known as the John Kenrick Woods Conservation Area, this land is an integral part of an extensive greenbelt covering over 600 acres on the lower Cape. It is part of the watershed of Arey’s Pond, which connects to Pleasant Bay.
In the 1700s, the first John Kenrick settled at “Potanimicut” through an agreement with John Sipson, one of the last hereditary sachems of the Nauset Tribe. The Kenrick family occupied the land for generations; in the mid-19th century, John Kenrick II was a farmer, merchant, and a schoolteacher, also serving as a selectman for 14 years as well as the town Assessor and Overseer of the Poor. He engaged in extensive planting of white pines on the land: the tall, straight lumber from Kenrick Woods was coveted for flagpoles and spars and planks for sailing vessels. The original South Orleans General Store was located on the Kenrick farmstead.
The landscape is predominantly white pine–oak forest, the pines a legacy of John Kenrick’s use of the land as tree farm. The needle mat underfoot is habitat for understory plants such as winterberry and varied fungi. This area notably nurtures multiple specimens of the now rare American chestnut (Castanea dentata), which suffered a blight that killed off many of the mature trees; according to the American Chestnut Foundation, this is the only location in the state where chestnuts are reproducing. A seasonal vernal pool occupies a low-lying basin. It’s well worth extending a walk beyond Namequoit Road, where the trail culminates in a nice viewpoint above Arey’s Pond.
“Land trusts and protected open space give communities and land owners the opportunity to preserve the land’s memory for posterity. Kenrick Woods is such a place. Not only is it a watershed recharge area that is vital today, it is also part of a greater community that still holds the unbroken cultural heritage of a place called Potanimicut.”
– Cape historian Todd Kelley