NATURE (HUMAN AND OTHERWISE)
by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
We’ve been awaiting this moment for more than 15 years. We’ve read about grant applications and land purchases. We’ve observed survey tape on trees, and witnessed trails being carved out of the forest. When red and blue blazes appeared at woodland intersections and signs went up in the parking area, we knew it was imminent. And then last month it finally happened. The Wildlands Trust officially opened its Hoyt-Hall Preserve on Careswell Street in southern Marshfield!
This isn’t just any nature preserve. First of all, it’s large – 123 acres. Secondly it’s diverse – a large pond surrounded by freshwater wetlands, red maple swamp, and mature forest, with numerous walking trails, some centuries old. And third, it’s beautiful: for starters, check out the different ways the sun, clouds and surrounding vegetation reflect off Long Tom Pond. Plus, the property is easily accessible, with a parking area right on Route 139.
The opening of the Hoyt-Hall Preserve represents years of determined effort by The Wildlands Trust, a Plymouth-based non-profit organization that conserves and protects land throughout southeastern Massachusetts. When the Wildlands Trust acquired the property in 2000 – the generous donor prefers to remain anonymous – it was clear that it was going to be “a project.” Some trails already existed – such as colonial-era cart paths and cranberry bog causeways – but they were overgrown with thorns and briers and very much in need of clearing. Other trails had to be plotted outright. Plus there were streams that needed crossing and brush that had to be cut back. It was a huge job. But over time, the Wildlands Trust’s stewardship crew and its volunteer Trailblazer team completed the task. Final touches included the installation of fence and signage. In addition, the Marshfield DPW graded and graveled the parking area.
A more vexing challenge was finding a way to create a circuit trail within the preserve. Because of the layout of the property – specifically the pond and wetlands at its center – there was no clear way to connect various trail spurs without crossing sensitive areas. Fortunately a solution became evident after the Town of Marshfield purchased adjacent land to protect its drinking water supply. The acquisition included a narrow slice of upland along the preserve’s northern border, with just enough room for a trail.
It is collaborations such as these that make the Hoyt-Hall Preserve a noteworthy achievement. The majority of the land is owned and managed by the Wildlands Trust, but some of the trails cross other quasi-public properties such as the Historic Winslow House, and the Old Colony Railroad. Without these extensions, it would be difficult for the public to fully experience and appreciate all that the preserve has to offer. Some of the trail work and other property enhancements were funded with a grant from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The Wildlands Trust aptly considers the Hoyt-Hall Preserve as one of its showcase properties – a hidden gem. Its beauty is reason enough to go see it, but the land is also rich in history, a fact that is sure to attract additional visitors. Before European settlers arrived on our shores, the area was used every summer by Wampanoag tribes, who traveled seasonally from Lakeville and Middleboro to set up camp and hunt for shellfish along Wharf Creek. A portion of King Philip’s Path passes through the preserve.
In the 1630s, the preserve and its surroundings were among the lands granted to Governor Edward Winslow. Over time the property was parceled out and cleared for farming, with many of the trees sold to the local shipbuilding industry. While originally Long Tom Pond was part of Duxbury Bay’s tidal saltmarsh, during this time it was dammed in, resulting in a conversion to a freshwater ecosystem that the farms eventually would use as a water supply. More recently, a portion of the area was made into cranberry bogs. But even that was long ago. Forests and swamps have reclaimed their territory, although portions of the Pilgrim Trail (originally a Wampanoag byway; later Green’s Harbor Path, the first court-ordered road in Plymouth Colony) skirt the property’s northern border. You can even walk part of Old Careswell Street, which was rerouted in the 1930s. Look for patches of asphalt along the pond’s southern edge.
Since it opened, the Hoyt-Hall Preserve has attracted quite a number of visitors. There is a large map and an account of the property’s history posted in the parking area, or you can download a detailed map from the Wildlands Trust’s website (www.wildlandstrust.org). The main trail, which surrounds the pond and is marked with red blazes, might take you an hour to traverse. It’s also worth investigating the spur trail to the Historic Winslow House (its blazes are blue). Additional trails along the western border lead to the Old Colony Railroad bed, which connects the Black Mount neighborhood to Route 139. Some of these are marked in white, but consider this the “adventure” portion of your visit, as some guesswork will be required to circle back to the main trail.
If you’re willing to portage a canoe or kayak about 450 feet from the parking area, you can launch your boat on the pond. Also, be sure to check out the old stone cistern along the pond’s eastern edge, another relic from the area’s farming days. And I understand that birders are going to love this place. There’s been talk of an American bittern sighting, which is apparently quite rare.
You’ll find the Hoyt-Hall Preserve on Route 139/Careswell Street in Marshfield, south of Webster Street and diagonally across from Colby Hewitt Lane. The parking area easily holds about 6 cars, but I’ve seen more than ten packed in on particularly pleasant days. There is also limited access on foot via the cul de sac at the end of Pilgrim Trail, as well as the Old Colony Railroad access points on Steamboat Drive and across from South Point Lane.
Kezia Bacon’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 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 20 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com