A view of the water at Duxbury’s North Hill Marsh.

Hooray! Duxbury recently became the one of the first towns on the South Shore to pass the Community Preservation Act. Among other things, this means that they will now have a system in place to automatically set aside money for the purchase of conservation land. I hope other towns, particularly Marshfield and Hingham, who will vote on the matter later this month, will follow suit. Adopting the Community Preservation Act is a pro-active, forward-thinking approach to slowing the rampant growth of development in our region.

Duxbury has been successfully setting aside conservation land for years now. In addition to its renowned beautiful beaches, the town includes a 1,000-acre corridor of open space and trails, its “Central Greenbelt.” I recently visited one of the key parcels in this vast expanse of preserved land, Massachusetts Audubon’s North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.

North Hill Marsh, comprised of 134 acres, is directly linked to the Duxbury Town Forest, North Hill Golf Course, and other publicly-owned land. It includes a 90-acre pond, with occasional observation platforms, and numerous walking trails through pine and oak forests.

Considering this sanctuary by size alone can be mind-boggling. At first glance, it seems not much different from any of the South Shore’s other large conservation parcels. But starting off along one of its many trails, you quickly realize that your destination is quite a bit farther away than originally supposed. The irregular and constantly unfolding shape of the pond can play tricks on the mind. What appears to be an arc of shoreline obscured by trees turns out to be an entire new finger of water, and what you thought was the perimeter of the pond is suddenly pushed back 200 feet.

Friends have told me that they have walked all the way around the pond in about an hour’s time. I won’t believe it till I’ve done it myself. There are so many interesting detours — I imagine you have to know exactly which trails to follow, or you will certainly be led off course.

On my first visit to North Hill I was struck particularly by the tall, thin, sun-bleached trees, long dead, standing in clusters in the pond. It was a bright, clear day, so the trees appeared stark white against the blue of the water and sky.

It’s a common enough site in New England, trees half submerged in surface water, but I still find it captivating. When I was a child I wondered how trees could grow in water like that. I’ve learned how it’s the water, really, that grows. As the water level increases, dry land is transformed into marsh, swamp, perhaps eventually a pond . . . But dead trees standing in water hold a sort of mystery. I wonder what the landscape was like when those trees thrived.

I suppose it’s possible to see all of North Hill Sanctuary in a single day, but I think it’s better to give yourself ample time to take in all that the property has to offer — frozen swamps in winter; vernal pools in spring; ducks, herons, egrets, and a host of other waterfowl. In the summer there are lilypads and frogs. If you’re lucky, you may catch sight of an osprey.

I know of two men who have been making weekly trips to North Hill, religiously, for years now. Though they have surely seen more there than the average visitor, I doubt that they’d claim to have seen it all. I doubt that they — or anyone else — ever will.

Getting There: North Hill Wildlife Sanctuary is accessible via the Duxbury Town Forest. Take Route 3A to Mayflower Street, and watch for a parking area about 1.3 miles down, on the right side of the road. If you plan to walk anywhere other than directly to the pond and back, I recommend studying, or even sketching a copy of, the trail map provided in the parking lot.

by Kezia Bacon Bernstein, Correspondent
April 2001

Kezia Bacon Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.