|Exploring the trails at Willow Brook Farm in Pembroke.|
Pembroke’s Willow Brook Farm Preserve is one of the South Shore’s newer and more diverse open space areas. Managed by the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, this 73 acre parcel located at the confluence of Pudding and Herring Brooks will soon celebrate its first anniversary of public access. Once a dairy farm, Willow Brook features wide fields, mixed woodlands, and a variety of wetlands, plus rustic stone walls and one of the largest groves of ironwood in the state. The property offers both narrow trails and broad cart paths to guide one’s explorations.
Willow Brook Farm is one of several open space parcels in the Herring Brook Valley. Thanks to the devoted work of the Wildlands Trust, the Pembroke Open Space Committee, and numerous volunteers, conservation acreage in this area continues to grow. This is especially significant because the Herring Brook Valley is home to the only freshwater tidal swamp in Massachusetts and one of the largest freshwater tidal marshes in all of New England. Willow Brook Farm, Misty Meadows Conservation Area, Herring Run Park, as well as two recently acquired additional properties — all in Pembroke — serve as a protective barrier around these rare and unusual natural resources.
From the parking area, located just off Route 14 in Pembroke (after the red barn, about 3/4 mile from the intersection of Routes 14 and 53) proceed to the information kiosk at the head of the trail, where you can get an overview of the property and sometimes find trail maps to carry with you. For a one-hour walk that covers most of the property, follow these suggestions.
A gravel trail, sometimes muddy, will lead you through the woods and into the heart of Willow Brook Farm. Merging with an old cart path, the trail crosses the vestiges of a cranberry bog and brings you to a large clearing. To the right is a wooden bench ideal for contemplating the meadow before you, as well as a dilapidated concrete and stone farm structure begging careful investigation.
Follow the trail across the field. At the far end you’ll see cedar trees and a fork in the road. Bear right at the fork: the trail takes a winding course through both grassy areas and oak and pine woods. There, you will also find three mounds constructed by Allegheny Mound Building Ants. It is best to observe activity on these mounds from a distance. Binoculars or even a camera’s zoom lens will assure you safe distance from these creatures who, while fascinating to observe, do not take well to human interference.
Continuing on the trail will bring you deeper into the woods, where there are thick patches of princess pine. Bear left at the next fork, following the stone wall. Watch your step, as there are a lot of raised roots and half-buried rocks underfoot. A small footbridge takes you over some of the wetter areas, but it’s advisable to wear boots if you visit Willow Brook Farm in springtime.
The trail will eventually lead you to a large wooden observation tower. I strongly recommend climbing to the top platform, where, looking out toward Hanover and the North River, you will find a unique view of the freshwater marshes of the Herring Brook Valley . . . you’ll be looking out over the treetops! Watch for red tail hawks and great blue herons. This time of year, you may also hear the cries of wood frogs.
To make your way back toward the parking area, turn your back to the tower, and take the trail to the right. At the next intersection, turn right. You are sure to see additional farm relics along this route. Watch the trail markings carefully.
At the next fork, bear left. This trail leads you through a grove of red cedar. One more right turn brings you to a semi-wooded trail that runs parallel to the field, and back to the old stone structure. Once in the clearing, the path at right leads you back to the parking area.
An ever-growing number of open space areas in Plymouth, Norfolk, Bristol and Barnstable counties are overseen by The Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to land conservation and the natural heritage of our area. Younger sibling to such well-known groups such as The Nature Conservancy, Massachusetts Audubon Society, and the Trustees of Reservations, The Wildlands Trust often focuses its efforts on preserving smaller, less prominent open space areas that are no less important in terms of conservation value. For more information on Willow Brook Farm, or to find out how you can support the Wildlands Trust’s efforts to preserve lands for future generations, call (781) 934-9018.
by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
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.