On November 16th, Kris Ramsay, Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) Administrator, led an educational walk along the trails within the Woods Cove Conservation Area. As outlined by Kris during his introduction, this land was once owned by Dr. Herbert and Helen “Bobsie” Whitlock, who were strong advocates for land preservation.
In fact, in 1968, just two years before the Trust’s founding, the Whitlocks met with a small group of concerned citizens to determine a course of action against the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to dredge out a deep channel through Eastham’s Nauset Marsh. During this meeting Dr. Whitlock decided to create the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC) not only to protect resources on the Cape but also to educate people about important environmental issues. And he started at a time when environmental protection was not a high profile concern. Dr. Whitlock was known to many as the creator of the environmental movement on Cape Cod, serving as an active leader until his passing in 1998.
The Woods Cove Conservation Area was preserved thanks to the continued foresight of Dr. Whitlock. He knew that this property was a critical habitat for black-crowned night herons and decided to purchase much of the land in the 1960’s to protect it from development. However, it wasn’t until the summer of 1998 that representatives from the OCT met with Mrs. Whitlock and other family members to discuss land preservation options for the 11 acres of land stretching from Tonset Road to Freemans Way.
The following winter Mrs. Whitlock donated the first parcel of land along Freemans Lane to the OCT and the Polite family donated a 1.3 acre parcel abutting Woods Cove. Just months after these first gifts, the Trust was able to negotiate a purchase agreement with the family to preserve the remaining land, ensuring the property would never be developed.
This land, now referred to as the Woods Cove Conservation Area, consists of 11.6 acres of upland, wetland, and salt-marsh ecosystems. All of these ecosystems play important roles in the maintenance of the habitat diversity on this site. Each habitat is important for a wide range of local plant and animal species.
The Woods Cove Conservation Area was initially a farming area, which can be confirmed by several characteristics of the land. The presence of stone walls indicates property borders from a once-cleared landscape. The clear-cutting that once left this land barren has since created a diversity in forest types that is critical for numerous species.
While the trail did not pass through the wetlands, Kris briefly mentioned that a wetland ecosystem can be found in the western half of the property, which includes of two vernal pools, connected by a narrow man-made streambed. Both the pools and the streambeds are filled with water temporarily, usually from the beginning of the spring to the middle of the summer. These wetlands are classified as vernal pools because they have no permanent water and they have no connection to lower lying water bodies.
When crossing through the upland ecosystem, Kris explained to walk participants that this area consists of a fairly small range of forest types that are common to most forested woodlands on Cape. The portions of property at the highest elevation are made up of mature white oaks with very little understory growth. As the terrain slopes downward towards the marsh system, hikers saw a mixed canopy dominated by pitch pines, with a small amount of white oaks and black cherry mixed into the canopy. The lowest portions of the property, which abuts the vernal pools to the west and the salt marsh on the northeast, contained a fairly dense understory dominated by arrow-wood viburnum and morrow’s honeysuckle.
After less than half a mile the trail emerged at the edge of the Woods Cove marsh. The vegetation along this marsh, like most on Cape, is made up of three parts. The upper marsh area is located furthest from the water’s edge and is only under water during extreme high tides. The two major plant species identified within the upper marsh were rugosa rose and marsh elder.
Below this area is the portion of the marsh that is submerged at every high tide. This area was found to be dominated by spike grass and high-marsh cordgrass. The last zone is the border of the sea and the land, which is marked by the typical salt-water cordgrass,
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.