by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
Now is the perfect time of year to visit Norwell’s Cuffee Hill Conservation Area – or more specifically, to visit Black Pond Bog, which is located within the 350-acre parcel. Like many of our local nature preserves, Cuffee Hill is interesting throughout the year, but in May, June and July, visitors are likely to see some truly unusual sights.
Most of Cuffee Hill is owned by the Town of Norwell, but portions of it belong to the Nature Conservancy. The 83-acre Black Pond Bog Nature Preserve is one of only nine Nature Conservancy properties in Massachusetts. In 1962, it became the first of such properties in our state, thanks to a collaborative effort by local garden clubs, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the North River chapter of the Izaak Walton League, and the Nature Conservancy.
Black Pond itself is a kettle hole pond, created tens of thousands of years ago by a large chunk of melting glacier. Accord Pond, also in Norwell, is also a kettle hole, but all of the other ponds in town – as well as many of the other ponds on the South Shore – were created by mill dams. William “Cap’n Bill” Vinal, an Emeritus Professor of Nature Education at the University of Massachusetts, published a booklet in the 1960s, entitled “A Visit to Black Pond Reservation.” In it, he explained how as the white cedar trees and other vegetation that grew around Black Pond died and decayed, they sank to the bottom, creating a layer of muck. Over time, the water became so acidic that the surrounding plants could barely make use of it. What resulted was a quaking bog.
Black Pond is surrounded by sphagnum moss. One of few plants capable of growing in such acidic conditions, sphagnum absorbs water from the air, not from the pond. As it dies and decays, it forms a layer of peat. Other plants take root in the moss and peat, creating a thick mat at the edge of the water. When you step onto a quaking bog, you can actually feel it shake! That alone is one reason to visit Black Pond Bog.
Another reason to visit is to see the unusual species that grow out of the moss – the sundew and the pitcher plant. Both of these are carnivorous: they consume insects. The sundew secretes droplets of a sticky liquid. When small creatures such as gnats land on its leaves, they become immobilized. They are digested in the liquid and ultimately absorbed into the plant. The pitcher plant has a similar type of liquid, stored inside its bowl-shaped leaves. Its odor attracts insects, and after they crawl into the bowl, they find that the little hairs growing inside prevent their escape. Eventually they drown. In both cases, the insect carcasses provide essential nutrition for these plants, which would otherwise lack nitrogen.
You can view the pitcher plants and sundews, as well as wild orchids, as you walk along the boardwalk at the edge of Black Pond. You’ll also see several varieties of fern. Cinnamon fern is by far the most abundant – look for a light brown fuzz growing on the lower part of its stem. You may also find the much rarer Virginia Chain fern, as well as Royal fern.
The Cuffee Hill Conservation Area also includes a large expanse of cedar swamp. This extensive wetland serves as storage for some of the town’s water supply, and is a major source of Second Herring Brook, which flows into the North River across town in the Norris Reservation.
Upland forest makes up a larger portion of Cuffee Hill. There are several well-marked trails that lead through groves of pine, hemlock and beech. You’ll also see the occasional holly, and in the lowland areas, Atlantic white cedar. Some of the beech trees are quite old, and the cedars are some of the largest in our area. You can download a trail map from our website at https://www.nsrwa.org/listing/cuffee-hill-conservation-area/.
Cuffee Hill is known for its historic features as well as its natural ones. The property is named for Cuffee Lane, a historic cart path lined with stone walls that begins on Mount Blue Street and extends through the property. In the 1700s, Cuff Grandison and his wife established a farm on the property, clearing two fields and moving the rocks to the sides to build stone walls. The Grandisons were among the town’s earliest African American settlers. Their descendants continued to farm the land for several generations. Members of the Grandison family served with the Green Mountain Boys in the American Revolution. The land eventually fell out of agricultural use, and the forest has since begun to regenerate.
Prior the Grandisons, the land was owned by Thomas Clapp and his descendants. In 1640, Clapp received a grant of 75 acres at Black Pond from Plymouth Colony. By 1707, he had acquired additional acreage – mostly swampland – in six separate transactions. Joseph Clapp is remembered for sheltering 40 of the Acadians who were deported from Nova Scotia during the French and Indian War.
The town of Norwell purchased most of the lands in the Cuffee Hill Conservation Area in 2013, creating the largest contiguous area of protected, town-owned open space in the town.
The Cuffee Hill Conservation Area is located at 181 Mount Blue Street in Norwell and is open daily from dawn to dusk. Dogs are permitted on leash. There are three designated parking areas. If you’re entering from the intersection with Lincoln Street, the first parking area, on the left, accommodates 3-4 vehicles. The second parking area, on the right, is about twice as big, and provides the most direct access to Black Pond Bog. The third place to park is a roadside pull-off near the start of Cuffee Lane.
For more information, features, directions, trail maps and more on Cuffee Hill Conservation Area and Black Pond Bog go to www.nsrwa.org/listing/cuffee-hill-conservation-area/
Visit exploresouthshore.org to find your next outdoor adventure on the South Shore!
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. You will also find 20+ years of Kezia’s Nature columns there.