Mass Audubon's North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Mayflower St, Duxbury, MA 02332, USA
Owned By: Mass Audubon
This 90-acre pond, surrounded by woods and wetlands with numerous trails, is prime habitat for migratory waterfowl.
The North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is part of Duxbury’s 1,000-acre Eastern Greenbelt. It lies within a larger property owned by Duxbury Conservation, the Frederick B. Knapp Town Forest. The town owns 823 acres of pine/oak woods and wetlands, while Audubon oversees another 30 acres of upland, plus 90 acres of reservoir and marsh. Together they provide an ideal location for walking, birding and wildlife observation.
The reservoir at the center of North Hill Sanctuary – as well as the freshwater marsh that surrounds it – was created centuries ago, when the town’s early European inhabitants dammed a brook to power a sawmill and provide water to farms nearby. In the 1920s, ownership transferred to a group of sportsmen, who used the area for duck hunting. A second dam, constructed in 1940 as part of a cranberry growing operation, raised the water level in the pond even more. Mass Audubon now maintains the property as wildlife habitat, thus dead trees are left standing (or lying down, as the case may be), to encourage waterfowl to feed and breed.
There are 5 miles of trails at North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (including the surrounding Duxbury Town Forest land). A well-marked Loop Trail extends all the way around the pond, closely hugging the shoreline in many places. Portions are flat, but some of the trail involves elevation, so it can be a satisfying hike for those hoping to get the heart pumping. There is also a shorter loop through the woods, plus a path than runs more or less parallel to Mayflower Street, through the Frederick B. Knapp Town Forest, which is comprised primarily of tall pines. Additional spur trails connect the property to West Street and Tremont. Visiting the Waiting Hill Preserve, in the northern quadrant of the property, involves a climb to the top of the town’s second-largest hill, which stands at 140 feet above sea level (follow the yellow-blazed trail). Alas, trees obscure what otherwise would be a broad view of Duxbury Bay. Accessible from the southeastern corner of the property is the 1623 Green’s Harbor Path, another excellent trail network.
Habitats and Wildlife
You might see osprey at North Hill Marsh, as well as great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, kingfishers, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, and any number of geese and ducks. Also look for tree swallows, especially near the nesting boxes hung at various points around the property. The shallow edges of the pond are an ideal location for spotting salamanders, frogs, and turtles (snapping, painted and box), and in the warmer months, there are plenty of dragonflies and damselflies. The small mammals so common to our region – squirrels, chipmunks, mice, raccoons, opossums — are joined at North Hill by water-loving muskrats, mink, otters, plus coyote and deer, although many of these you are unlikely to spot in broad daylight.
North Hill Marsh is drained by West Brook. West Brook flows east into the Duck Hill River, which then flows into the Atlantic.
Historic Site: No
Boat Launch: No
Size: 146 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Limited on-site parking on Mayflower Street.
Trail Difficulty: Easy, Medium
Kiosk, benches, observation platform, boardwalks.
Dogs: Dogs must be kept on leash at all times.
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes