NATURE by Kezia Bacon, NSRWA Correspondent
In late November, Massachusetts Audubon opened Tidmarsh, a 479-acre wildlife sanctuary in Plymouth. Land conservation is always something to celebrate, but this acquisition is also noteworthy for its scope.
In recent years Tidmarsh was a working cranberry farm. Before Mass Audubon granted it permanent protection as a wildlife sanctuary, the property underwent a significant restoration. It took years – and the removal of nine dams – to return Tidmarsh to its natural state. Thanks to the efforts of Audubon and its partners in this project – the Town of Plymouth, the Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services, the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Tidmarsh is now – once again – a winding coastal stream bordered by freshwater wetlands. In fact – in the Northeast – it’s the largest freshwater ecological restoration to date.
Tidmarsh is a most-welcome pin on Mass Audubon’s map. While Audubon manages 57 wildlife sanctuaries across the state, until now, its presence on the South Shore was limited to three properties in Marshfield and Duxbury. This new sanctuary in Plymouth fills the gap between the three South Shore sanctuaries and the four on the South Coast (Wareham, Attleboro and South Dartmouth/Westport).
At the center of the property is Beaver Dam Brook – a stream that meanders for three miles from its inland headwaters to Plymouth Harbor. Once impeded by a series of dams — a necessary part of the cranberry bog system — the brook now flows freely to the sea . . . for the first time in over a century!
Wildlife has taken notice. In the spring, river herring were spotted in the brook, making their way upstream for their annual migration (which is now possible, due to the absence of dams). Muskrats have returned as well. And birds are rediscovering this property too. Common species such as red-shouldered hawks and northern harriers have been spotted regularly, as well as more-rare visitors such as king rails, blue grosbeaks and Caspian terns.
Tidmarsh is a new property with big plans. There are already three miles of well-tended trails, with more on the way. There is already plenty to see. From the parking area, follow the Entrance Trail (0.4 miles) past a small pond and through a forest of pine and oak. This will lead you to a large open meadow. You can take the Ridge Trail (to the left) uphill to an overlook that features a spectacular view of the entire property.
Or if you have more time, follow the Meadow Trail (to the right) to either of two longer paths. The Farm Road Ramble takes you over Beaver Dam Brook, along the edge of the wetlands, and eventually to the scenic Madar Loop (about 1.4 miles total). The Volunteers’ Trail, along the wetlands’ opposite bank, runs farther into the sanctuary. You can hike for a mile each way, with many views of the newly-restored wetlands and stream. There are plans in place to eventually connect these two trail systems, so that visitors can tour the entire stream valley in one long loop.
One of the most inspiring things about the Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary is what it means, in terms of the Big Picture. First there was Beaver Dam Brook, and the wetlands that surrounded it. Then came the influence of agriculture and industry, where unfortunately nature took a backseat. The birds went away; the fish and furry creatures found other places to inhabit. Now the original habitats have been restored. The wetlands are capable of serving their natural function once again – to contain floodwaters and support the water supply against drought. As the increasing consequences of Climate Change become more evident, Tidmarsh brings a sense of hope that it is not too late to protect our planet.
Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary is located at 60 Beaver Dam Road in Plymouth, not far from Route 3A in Manomet. Trails are open daily from dawn to dusk. Before your visit, be sure to check Mass Audubon’s website (https://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/tidmarsh). At the time of this writing, the sanctuary was temporarily closed due to parking lot construction.
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of nature columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com