Thursday, August 6, 2009

Plymouth gentian found at Hawksnest!

Plymouth gentian is a showy purple flower on the State's list--a "Species of Special Concern."

It grows along the border of ponds, and is more likely to be found during years of low water. It doesn't compete well with the shrubs, so it requires occasional high water to prune back the shrubs. When there's no beach, the plant survives as rhizomes submerged in the shallow water, or as seeds. Then, when the water recedes, the gentian will bloom in July, August, or September.

The gentian was last seen during exceptionally low water in 1993, on Hawksnest Pond near the isthmus with Black Pond, and also on the Black Pond side. It may still be present, biding its time, plotting how to outwit the shrubs.

Finding the gentian again would help protect Hawksnest Pond and its shoreline, because managers are required to manage for the plant--and that means excluding threats like horses, ATVs, and pedestrians from the beach where the plant is found. We need to work now for protection of the plant, before low water levels return. That's when most abuse happens!

If you look for the gentian, be careful! Simply walking along the pond edge could trample it's rhizomes. The preferred way would be to wade in deeper water, swim, or take a boat. It would be best for "Friends" to pick a single person to watch for the plant, to avoid lots of people loving the last flower to death!
For a slide show on the gentian (be sure to click on "show info" in the show's menu):

The most urgent problems at Hawksnest

This is a copy of a letter I sent July 17 to Jon Peterson, head of Nickerson State Park--who is nominally responsible for Hawksnest State Park.

"I’m writing about an urgent conservation problem at Hawksnest Pond. I write as the son of Helen and Kenneth Thompson, who in the 1950’s got the ball rolling to create Hawksnest State Forest. They sold our land to the State, and persuaded another major landholder to sell. So I know the condition of Hawksnest when the State began its stewardship, and have visited many times since then.

Hawksnest Pond is the most important natural asset of Hawksnest State Forest, and the pond has exceptional water quality. In the 1950s, I watched as a limnologist lowered a Secchi disk into the pond. He could see it all the way to the bottom--over 30 feet—and remarked about the exceptional clarity. The pond’s waters are clear because, until recently, no surface runoff could reach the pond. The shore was completely protected by vegetation. Rainwater sank into the soil, and was filtered by sand before reaching the lake. So protection of the pond’s shore is essential to preserving water quality.

But now growing erosion at the Round Cove Road parking lot is allowing muddy runoff to reach the lake during rainstorms. First, some years ago, ATVs heading for the beach destroyed the bank above the beach, creating an ugly slash. Then in June of 2007, runoff from the parking area, running down the footpath, linked up with the ATV gully and ran directly into the lake for the first time. When I swam a day or so after this storm, the pond was noticeably cloudy.

Now this year and for the first time, vehicles are driving down a footpath from the main parking lot, to create a second parking lot just above the beach. Stumps show that several trees have been cut to make the footpath wide enough for vehicles. The soil along this route is rapidly eroding. On July 14, 2009, I saw three different vehicles drive down the footpath to this new parking area, which people also like to use for sitting and sunbathing. However, if quick action is taken to stop the vehicles and repair the damage, runoff can still be easily diverted away from the pond.

There’s another urgent problem in the same area. As Round Cove Road approaches the parking lot, there’s a steep hill where the track has become badly eroded. Water runs from the descending road, from the south end of the parking lot, and from the adjacent horse trail. From there it goes into a giant puddle in a hollow just above the pond. Vehicles turning off Round Cove Road often splash through this puddle, making it very deep and pushing a wave towards Hawksnest. The puddle has grown so large that it is very close to breaking through to the pond (see enclosed photo). Should this happen, the gully to the pond would become much enlarged, and a substantial area of naked ground would start to drain into the pond.

Control of vehicle parking here is urgently needed before the erosion becomes much worse. Parking in the new area just above the pond must be prevented. I suggest erecting signs & chains in two places, as vehicles approach the new lakeside parking area from two directions.

The parking lot on Walkers Road (west side of pond) also causes runoff into the pond, but the problem is less severe because far fewer people visit this side of the pond. This could be remedied by digging a few ditches to divert runoff to a low area away from the pond, and by placing a few logs to keep people from driving over your ditches or parking too close to the pond.

I know you are in the middle of a busy summer season at Nickerson State Park. But the parking problem is really urgent, and if not solved soon, is going to result in erosion that will be hard to stop, and take much more effort to repair.

I understand that the State of Massachusetts has few resources to devote to Hawksnest. The policy of “minimal management” has worked pretty well at Hawksnest, with the exception of the Round Cove Road parking area. When the State took ownership, instead of a great mud puddle, there was a beautiful little glen of pitch pines, with a carpet of cranberries, blueberries, lichen, and a few feathery grasses on the ground. Now it has turned into an ugly scar, threatening water quality of the entire pond.

Hawksnest has a number of other problems—I’m sure you are aware of them. I’m interested in working with your staff to help reduce the impact. I live in Wisconsin now, but will be visiting again in October. I’m prepared to do what I can to assist you, although limited somewhat by my location. I hope we can meet in October to discuss how we can start a “Friends of Hawksnest Pond.” The staff of the Harwich Conservation Trust is aware of my concerns, and would like to be included. Tasks I’m able to do now are start a website about Hawksnest (which could help coordinate cleanups), share my photos, and notify a few of the residents near Hawksnest who share my concerns.

I’m currently working on a larger list of issues concerning Hawksnest. One thing I’m going to propose is that Hawksnest has great potential as a place to educate the public about the Cape’s water quality issues. Black Pond, right next to Hawksnest, is choked with weeds and eutrophic, providing a stark contrast. But the educational opportunity will be lost if we allow Hawksnest Pond to continue its decline. If any pond on the Cape can be kept pristine, it’s Hawksnest, because of the State Forest on all sides.

This week, I walked all the trails, and all around Black, Hawksnest, and Oliver Ponds. I documented everything I saw with photos." Here are links to photos I posted on the web:
A walk in Hawksnest, south loop:
A walk in hawksnest, NE loop
A walk in hawksnest, NW loop
Low water at Hawksnest Pond, 1993

David H. Thompson