Thursday, October 29, 2009

Of ponds and puddles

Hawksnest State Park has some very nasty puddles.  There's the Godzilla Puddle just above the beach at Hawksnest Pond.   If that puddle rises only a foot more, it will break through to the pond.  When this happens, muddy runoff from the parking lot, and from Round Cove Road will be able to run into the pond.  Goodbye crystalline waters.

"Godzilla Puddle" at Hawksnest, with abusing off-road vehicle. Why does the puddle last?

The Mystery
Cape Cod has very sandy soil, thanks to the glaciers.  Standing water quickly sinks into the porous sand... right?  So the puddles should disappear shortly after a rain.  But that's not the case at Hawksnest, where puddles in the road, along with Godzilla Puddle, persist for weeks.  Why doesn't the water sink in?  It's a mystery!

Solving this mystery could reveal some fascinating things about the lives of ponds.

Clue #1
In the spring and early summer, pines of the Cape release vast quantities of pollen.  It settles on the ponds, and is blown by the wind, where it collects on the beach.  Sometimes you can find up to an inch of beautiful golden pollen on the shore.  As a child digging in the sand, sometimes I would find a layer of golden pollen burried an inch or two deep under the sand.

Pollen scum on a puddle--beautiful and complex

What does pollen have to do with puddles?  Pollen falls on Round Cove Road.  Long stretches of road collect pollen and concentrate it in puddles.  Pollen is microscopic--it clogs the pores between the grains of sand.  So the pollen (and other organic debris) acts like clay, lining the puddles, and making the bottom watertight.  That's why Hawksnest puddles last forever.

OK, hold on, I'm getting to the pond connection.  

Clue #2
There's a curious thing about Hawksnest Pond.  Hawksnest is deep, and unlike the mucky ponds on either side, has few pond lilies or other aquatic plants.  The bottom is sandy, not mucky.  But one spot on Hawksnest has a mucky bottom with lots of aquatic vegetation--that's the cove--the beak of the hawk that gave Hawksnest its name.

The tip of the cove in Hawksnest Pond (green, lower left) is the only mucky part of the pond. source

This part of Hawksnest has lots of decayed organic matter.   But how did that muck get to the cove, and only to the cove?  There are no streams to wash organic stuff into the pond.

"Elementary, my dear Watson"
My guess is that the muck in the cove came from pollen and leaves and anything else that could be blown there.  The cove is on the NE side of the pond, just the place where the prevailing SW winds would blow floating organic matter.

Getting back to Godzilla Puddle
There's a lot of pollen and other muck in that puddle.  If it finally breaks through to the lake, all that muck is is headed for the pond.  Goodbye water quality.  Pollen is natural, but it does contribute to the eutrophication (fertilizing) of the pond, as we see in the cove.  When Godzilla Puddle breaks through, Hawksnest Pond will receive a lot more pollen and other debris, every time it rains.

This little mystery illustrates how Hawksnest State Park, with its three different ponds, could be an ideal laboratory for children from surrounding schools.  Children love puddles... and ponds.

Children playing in a puddle covered with pollen. Better than TV.

What you can do
Write Jon Peterson and ask him to fix this puddle, and to post signs delimiting parking ASAP, before the puddle breaks through!  It's more than a puddle--we're talking about an eroding road and eroding parking lot, all of which are about to drain into the pond.
Jon Peterson
Supervisor, Nickerson State Park
3488 Main St., Rte. 6A
Brewster, MA  02631-1521  

A cry for help...Godzilla Puddle says: "Help me, before I kill a pond!"
Threatened Hawksnest Pond is just behind the puddle.

Help Friends of Hawksnest Stop Illegal Off-Highway Vehicle Use

Hawksnest State Park (HSP) trails are closed to all motor vehicles except those used for management by Conservation (DCR) employees. There should be signs posted at all roads leading into the forest, and at trailheads informing the public that Hawksnest trails are closed to motorized vehicles--but at present there are only about two signs.

Off-highway vehicles (OHV) are also banned from Hawksnest Road (if they are unlicensed) because it is a county road.  Driving on the beach is illegal and especially damaging because it destroys rare plants and the vegetation essential to maintaining water quality.

Despite this, OHVs regularly enter the forest from the public roads and abutting properties. They have damaged trails intended for use by hikers, equestrians and mountain bike riders, created nuisance noise, and endangered other users. Reckless OHV riders have destroyed Plymouth gentian and caused serious erosion of a path to the beach.

Parking outside established areas, close to the beach, is one form of illegal OHV use.  Signs are needed to indicate where parking is legal.

You can help by reporting information that will be logged and used to gather evidence for identification and prosecution of OHV operators and for guiding official efforts.

 Please report the following information to Harwich Police by phone, or e-mail, or call the toll-free 24-hour of the Environmental Police Dispatch Center at 1-800-632-8075:
  1. The time, date and approximate location of the sighting as precisely as you can describe it;
  2. The number and type of OHV’s along with any descriptions of machines and operators;
  3. Direction of travel of the machines when sighted;
  4. Any other information or ideas you have which may be useful in determining where the OHV’s came from or went to;
  5. The identities of the operators, if known.  Take photos!
Please do not confront violators. We want to stress that it is the job of the DCR Rangers, Environmental Police and other law enforcement officers to confront violators.

Thank you for your help.
Friends of Hawksnest State Park

Are new trails a priority at Hawksnest?

Recently I learned about plans for a trail around Oliver Pond in Hawksnest State Park.  I understand that this plan died when residents on Round Cove Road objected.  They said there were already nice places to walk, such as the lovely and rustic Hawksnest Road.

Oliver Pond-- The south shore in on the left

Trails exist along the north sides of both Hawksnest and Oliver Ponds.  One can easily circumnavigate Hawksnest Pond if you use the trail, plus Hawksnest Road and Round Cove Road.   But there's one problem with this route--it requires a trespass on private property when you cross the isthmus between Black and Hawksnest Ponds.  And this isthmus, home of the Plymouth gentian, is very sensitive ecologically.  Perhaps that's why instead a trail was proposed along the south side of Oliver Pond--so you could walk all around at least one of the ponds.

But the question remains and will come up again--is there any need for new trails?   Perhaps the question should be rephrased: "Are new trails a priority now?"

Given the serious problems at Hawksnest that I've listed elsewhere, I don't think trail construction is a priority now.  We need to get the existing system of trails marked and under control, which means:
  • Eliminating ORVs
  • Designating which are for horses and which are foot travel only
  • Limiting beach access (maybe closing some trails) when water levels are low, to protect the shoreline
While ORV abuse is still a problem, building more trails just creates more places to abuse. And key to any discussion of trails is: "How can we protect the fragile shoreline vegetation?"  This is essential to protecting water quality. 

For example, the long trail that now leads from Round Cove Road to the beach, starting about midway between the four corners and the parking lot, should probably be closed.  There are several reasons:
  • This trail heads straight downhill--overuse will surely lead to a gully forming that will channel runoff into the pond. 
  • More use of this area will also lead to out-of-control parking.  People who use the beach there will park there.
  • When water levels are low, having several trails to the beach invites horses and ORVs to go along the beach from this trail to the other--a route that damages the shoreline.

This trail, from Round Cove Rd to the shore of Hawksnest, should be closed to protect the shoreline. Note the ORV or bicycle track leading to it.

When the time comes to build more trails, we should be very thoughtful about any that would provide access to the beach, the most fragile part of Hawksnest. 

Here's another priority I would rate higher than building new trails--saving Hawksnest Road from development.  The rustic Hawksnest Road (Seth Whitfield Rd) is designated as a county road.  Hence at any time it could be widened or paved--and it goes right through the heart of the park.   Already the south end is being widened.   We can always create new trails in Hawksnest Park some time in the future.  But once Hawksnest Road is ruined, a great and historic place for walking is destroyed.
Hawksnest Road, great for hiking, is threatened.

And, what about promoting Hawksnest trails in a regional trail guide?  That's like offering a drink to an alcoholic.  First get the existing trails and visitation under control.  Then you can promote them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Which future for Hawksnest?

Will we see this sign, sometime in the future, at Hawksnest Pond?

Public Health Notice
Due to a toxic algae bloom
Documented by the University of Massachusetts
Individuals and animals
Should not wade or swim or otherwise use Hawksnest Pond
until further notice
Harwich Health Department
You'd think ponds on Nantucket would be safe, with the island so far out in the ocean.  But no.  Look what's happening to Hummock Pond...

Photo, thanks to permission from The Nantucket Independent

Read more about how septic system runoff is harming Hummock Pond.  We can prevent this from happening at Hawksnest, if we act together now.

At Long Pond, in 2007 they were proposing alum treatment to stop the algae blooms and fish kills.  The treatment was to cost $420,000--yet they didn't even have a management plan for how to prevent the nutrients from accumulating again.  Just think what we could do with $420,000 spent on prevention of the problem, instead of closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.

At Hawksnest, let's spend a little now on prevention, before the problem occurs.

I'm involved at Hawksnest, because I've seen where we could be headed.  I now live in southern Wisconsin, where most of our lakes and ponds are sick, like the ones in the aerial photos below:

Runoff after a storm dumps sediment and nutrients into Lake Mendota. This is now starting to happen on a small scale at Hawksnest Pond.

The nutrients from storm runoff and from septic systems lead to algae blooms.  Once this happens, most nutrients stay put.  The lake cannot be cured.  This disease of lakes is called "eutrophication."

Some of our small ponds get this bad, covered with duckweed.

So, Harwich, which kind of pond do you prefer?
The three examples above...?  or, Hawksnest as it still is...

Get involved now.  Send your name & contact information to  I'll let you know how you can help.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Group to protect Hawksnest State Park meets with state officials

For Immediate Release

On October 13, a representative from the newly formed “Friends of Hawksnest State Park” met with State officials to inspect damage to the park. The park includes three undeveloped ponds, and is located in East Harwich. Hawksnest is administered by personnel at Nickerson State Park, but other than a few signs and infrequent pickup of illegal dumpings, the park has been neglected.

The officials viewed serious erosion at the Round Cove Road parking area, where most people enter the park. A large gully has formed, channeling runoff from the road and parking lot into the pond. Ashes from illegal campfires, and waste from humans, dogs, and horses threatens to pollute the pristine pond, known for its clear waters. Hoof prints were observed on the beach, close to where the rare Plymouth gentian sometimes blooms.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

History at Hawksnest State Park

While Hawksnest is mostly forest and ponds, there are many signs of former human activity  Here's an initial attempt to list some of the area's historical assets.

Duck Hunting
Duck-hunting camps date back to the late 1800s and early in the 1900s.  Hawksnest Camp, established in 1925,  is still occupied.  At least three other camps existed: one on the isthmus between Black and Hawksnest ponds (now a ruin), one at the Round Cove Rd. parking area (now removed, Thompson family), and one at the Walker Rd. parking area (now removed, Bell family).

Above: Ruins of a duck hunting camp on the isthmus
Hawksnest Camp, established 1925--the only cabin on the pond

When the Thompsons came to Hawksnest in the early 1950s, the camp at the end of Round Cove Road was a one-room cabin with a field stone fireplace, perhaps with a kitchen and bathroom.  It was owned by the Boy Scouts.  There were old calendars showing ducks in a primitive style, by Pope.  The Thompsons added running water, a sleeping porch, a deck, landscaping, and later, built a guest house (where the concrete platform remains).  The Thompsons founded Hawksnest State Park.  There were no other houses on the entire length of Round Cove Road, west of 137.

The Bells were an old couple from Boston.  In the 1950s, Hawksnest was very secluded.  The Bells had a vegetable garden near their cabin, and Mr. Bell, a tall, slightly stooped old man with white hair and a bushy white mustache, used to do his gardening in his underwear--or less.  So you had to loudly announce your presence if you went calling on the Bells.

After the Thompson and Bell lands were sold to the State, their two beautiful cabins were allowed to fall down, whereupon the State removed the remains.  When the Bell cabin remains were carried away, staff found a curious home-made insulation within the walls--sea weed stuffed into "pillows" of brown paper.  It was probably made locally, and I presume used the seaweed with the little air bubbles.

A famous folk-artist
A.E.Crowell is the most famous carver of decoys and decorative bird statues in America.  Two of his carvings sold for over a million dollars.  Mr. Crowell's workshop was on Orleans Rd. in East Harwich, and in 2008 was slated for a move to Sandwich, where it was going to be restored for $4 million. Apparently there was little interest in the old workshop in Harwich.

Crowell began making decoys for duck hunters, then managed a hunting camp--but as his talent began to shine, he made a living of carving and carved more works of pure art.  His bird carvings are so life-like you could mistake them for a live bird, and are found in many top museums.  More on Crowell.

The Walker Farm is located on the north side of Walker Road, looking down across an old field onto Walker Pond.  When I was a boy in the 1950s, the building was still standing though in shambles, and the field was still open. 

The fields of the Walker Farm have nearly returned to nature

Elsewhere around the park, there are numerous signs of old activity in the woods, which must have been fields at one time.  The old deeds refer to ditches and stone walls as property boundaries.  Oliver Pond shows the most signs of activity: there are old diggings on the north side, an old road coming down to the pond on the east side, and roads and ditches on the south side bluff. 

Old road to E end of Oliver Pond

Furrow on uplands S of Oliver Pond--an old boundary or path?

There is an old cranberry bog near the Walker Road parking area.

At the NE corner of SR 39-137, there was a small farm operated by Mr. Nickerson in the 1950s.  He grew vegetables and corn.  The fields came nearly to the south side of Round Cove Rd.

Old Roads
Seth Whitfield County Road (Hawksnest Rd.) runs mostly north-south, and bisects the northern portion of the park.  I'm told it goes back hundreds of years, and it's connection between Long Pond and Queen Ann road (also very old) also suggests an early origin.  The road still looks just as it did 50 years ago, and ought to be preserved in this same rustic condition.  However, it was recently widened at the southern end, showing its vulnerability.

Seth Whitfield County Road is rustic but endangered

When the park began, except for Round Cove Road (and it's former extension to the isthmus cabin), Seth Whitfield Road, and Walker Road, there were no roads or trails in the park.  I believe that the several trails that now ring the ponds or go down to the ponds, were cut by equestrians after the park was established.  (Excepting, of course, for the two short trails that led from the two parking lots to the beach.)

The Head of the Bay Cemetery is just across Walker Rd. from the NW end of the park--indicating there were probably farms in the area.  See the list of names on gravestones here.

Head of the Bay Cemetery in Eash Harwich, at the edge of Hawksnest State Park

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Off-Road Vehicles at Hawksnest

"Illegal off-road vehicle activity is damaging sensitive lands, including wetlands and rare species habitats, all across the state,” said E. Heidi Ricci, senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Audubon Society and a member of DCR's working group on the problem.

Rare spotted turtle killed by ORV (source)

Off road vehicles (ORVs) have been a serious problem at Hawksnest for many years:
  • ORVs started the gully at the Round Cove Rd. parking lot
  • Lack of limits to the parking area allow 4x4 vehicles to drive nearly to the beach, worsening the erosion.
  • ORVs have enlarged and damaged some of the trails
  • When the pond level drops, ORVs ride around the pond on the beach, threatening the Plymouth gentian flowers.  Water levels are now nearly low enough to allow this.
  • Concerns about conflict with equestrians led to posting of "no motorized vehicle" signs on horse trails

At Hawksnest, vehicles drive off-road to the beach, causing serious erosion.

Report ORV's!
ORVs are not allowed at Hawksnest State Park.  And especially, they ae not allowed on the beach.  Click here for regulations.  Call 1-866-PK-WATCH (866-759-2824).  DCR Rangers answer the hotline 24/7. The dispatcher will contact the appropriate agency AND keep a record of every call, which will help in enforcement planning.  Next, call Harwich Police, to increase their awareness. 

Watch for a pattern that might assist the police.  Where are they coming from?  Do they appear at the same time of day?

The "Friends Network" has a campaign against ORVs.  Click here to f ind out more.

Support the bill regulating ORVs
On Jan. 14, 2009, Representative Smizik submitted a bill, House No. 3330, that increases fines and enforcement of regulations.  This bill is based on the recommendations of a DCR study group, and we believe it has the best chance of passing.

The "Friends Network"

As the Friends of Hawksnest State Park starts up, we have some important support from the "Friends Network."  Here's some info from their website:

"Massachusetts Forest and Park Friends Network is an independent grassroots organization of volunteer "friends groups" working together to better protect and enhance Massachusetts’ state forests and urban parks. The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) oversees 259 properties in Massachusetts. Currently only about 34 friends groups serve particular forests and parks. Our goal is to see a strong friends group in every forest and park in the Commonwealth. "

"If you do not belong to a friends group, consider joining one or starting one. We are here to help! If you do belong to a friends group, please join us. We need your expertise to help guide new friends groups. If you are a friend to a non DCR property, you can still join as a "Friend of the Friends Network".
Click here for more information about  the Friends Network or a membership form.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Status Report--Hawksnest Oct. 2009

On Oct. 13, I visited Hawknest with staff from Mass. DCR.  In brief, here's what we found:
  • Litter was the worst I have ever seen it, including two mufflers from cars.
  • Erosion in the Round Cove Rd. parking area is worse compared to July. Especially, erosion along the trail down to the beach (caused by vehicles) is worse.
  • A new residential development is underway on the park border at the south end of Seth Whitfield Rd.  The road has been substantially widened.
  • The level of Hawksnest Pond has dropped substantially, and the beach is beginning to emerge.  Horse footprints are visible on the beach in the area where Plymouth gentian has grown.   If the drop continues a bit more, then ATVs and horses will be able to ride around the pond.
The officials present were dismayed by what they saw, and promised improvement.  More on my next post.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Traffic safety and Hawksnest

This summer, I watched as revelers at Hawksnest dragged a drunken comrade to their car. They tossed a beer can out the window as they drove away. Probably they were headed for the 39-137 intersection.

"The intersection of Route 39 and Route 137 in East Harwich is a high accident location showing 24 crashes in the years 1998 through 2000. The town took steps in 2000 to improve safety at this intersection including intersection widening, turning lanes,and signal improvements which are now complete." Reference

The State Conservation Rangers clearly have jurisdiction, but there are only two for the whole Cape. State Police...?? Nickerson State Park is understaffed, at some distance, and their unarmed rangers don't have arrest powers.  That leaves Harwich Police. They'd have plenty of moral authority at Hawksnest. For my dollar, Harwich police are responsible for policing parties at Hawksnest.

If Harwich is concerned about safety at the intersection, why aren't they policing Hawksnest, where alcohol consumption is illegal, and the park closes at 8:00 pm in the summer?  At present, the Round Cove Rd parking area is a lawless zone.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Box Turtle and Hawksnest

The Eastern box turtle is listed as a "species of special concern" in Massachusetts. This means that it's illegal to "take" the turtle. "Taking" includes a variety of actions that might interfere with the welfare of the species.

Recently, a 15-acre development in Sandwich was blocked until a plan could be worked out to safeguard the turtle. By reserving 70% of the development's area as turtle habitat, plus planning for extreme protections for the turtles during construction, the development was able to secure a permit to go ahead. More. Still more

Hawksnest State Park and surrounding undeveloped lands seem like ideal habitat for the turtle--although it is not officially designated at turtle habitat. Except for Route 6, there are few highways nearby. However, habitat fragmentation and danger from vehicles remain major threats to the species.

The new development on Hawksnest (Seth Whitfield) Road threatens the turtle from construction activities, from habitat fragmentation, and from the increased road traffic that will result.

Hawksnest is an incomplete state park. Not only has it been sadly neglected in maintenance, but it needs more land added to become a viable conservation unit. There are two portions of the shoreline of Hawksnest Pond that are still not within park boundaries.

Hawksnest and the lands surrounding it are valued by the community--it was identified as a "Heritage Landscape" in a community meeting, and was designated a District of Critical Planning Concern (The Six Ponds District). The undeveloped, private lands around Hawksnest serve as a sort of buffer zone, and they also represent the last opportunity to add new land to the park. That's why it's sad that the new development on Hawksnest road is underway--its a sign that opportunities to complete Hawksnest Park are closing.

The new development also points out the danger from Seth Whitfield Road. The north half of Hawksnest State Park is habitat for several endangered species.  Although the road bisects the north portion of the park, the road is outside the control of park management. At any time, the county could decide to pave the road for the convenience of a few local residents. Then the road would fragment Hawksnest habitat, and become a "killing zone" for box turtles and other wildlife.

So, let's add more lands to Hawksnest while there's still time, and work to remove the northern portion of Seth Whitfield Rd. from the county system.

Local legal tools that may apply here
  • District of Critical Planning Concern
  • Wetland Protection By-law
  • Area of Critical Environmental Concern
  • Corridor Protection Overlay

    This reference (p.5) indicates that Harwich needs to set aside more scenic roadways.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Development on Hawksnest Road

Today I visited Hawksnest, and noticed a new development along Hawksnest Road (the old name is Seth Whitfield Rd).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Volunteer "rangers" needed at Hawksnest

There’s a vacuum of stewardship in the park... waiting to be filled. Already neighbors are picking up litter and trying to stop other abuses at Hawksnest. So why don’t we just get a bit more organized?

You can work with the ParkWatch program. "Park Watch is enlisting the eyes and ears of park visitors to report illegal or suspicious activity, vandalism, hazardous conditions, illegal dumping, maintenance needs, or violations of park rules and regulations. ParkWatch encourages law enforcement agencies to work together, participate in ParkWatch events, share information, and support volunteer's efforts." So it's clear that your volunteer help will have official support.

In working with ParkWatch, we have three tools:
  • Digital camera: If you get a photo of someone abusing the park, I’ll post it on this blog. See the Gallery of Abusers in the right sidebar.And, if there's a visible license plate, ParkWatch may send them a letter.

  • A cell phone can be used to alert Park Watch (866-PK-WATCH or 911 if emergency), and to help the "ranger" feel safe.

  • GPS and Google Maps: If there's a hazard, dump site, erosion, or a rare plant--something that needs an exact location, you can place it precisely on a Google Map and forward that to Park Watch or another concerned state agency. I'll have more on this later.

I don’t have any illusions that police are going to rush out and arrest anyone at the Round Cove parking lot for cussing. But people who party at Hawksnest leave intoxicated, and they can and will be arrested on the highway if we alert the police. Maybe it won’t happen right away, but it is a point of leverage for improving the park.

I’ve heard that off-road vehicle abuse has dropped, due to involvement of citizens. Again, get their photo, and try to find out where they are coming from. Look for a transport vehicle with a license plate. Call Park Watch. With your involvement, we CAN stop this abuse. Vehicles cause serious erosion and are a real danger to hikers and equestrians.

Volunteer Rangers
The next step, beyond participating in ParkWatch, is to be a "volunteer ranger." Right now, there's no official program--just go to it! And use common sense.

In the old days, small towns were largely free from crime because everyone knew each other, and because people noticed what you did. At Hawksnest, the simple presence of “rangers” will go a long way toward stopping abuse.

It may sound corny, but rangers should wear a uniform. Just a khaki or green shirt, and a baseball hat (maybe one of the Harwich Conservation Trust ones). Coordinate with neighbors so there’s someone there almost every afternoon.

Know the rules of the park (see below on this blog), and always be polite. Most people simply don’t know they are harming the park, or that anyone cares. “Did you know parking isn’t allowed close to the beach? That’s because it cause erosion, and that pollutes the water. I’m with the volunteer group that looks after the park.”

My tactful friend Liz says it's important not to back people into a corner--for example, accusing them of doing something, or asking that they stop doing something. When you do, they get defensive--they try to defend what they are doing, and that leads to an argument. Instead, just inform them of the issues or rules, and trust them to choose the right thing. If they don't, you can always take their photo a bit later from a discrete distance.

The ranger's role is more to inform and educate than to command or to embarrass anyone. The fact that you are there and being helpful will do 95% of the job.

Want to stop the alcohol parties?

Alcohol is illegal at Hawksnest, and the park closes at 8 pm. With some enforcement, these two rules would go a long ways toward stopping parties. If parties haven't stopped, neighbors simply haven't complained often enough or loudly enough!

No one cares about someone quietly drinking a beer after work, then carrying out the can. But parties cause much litter and damage in the park, not to mention endangering other drivers outside the park. Controlling parties should be our top priority, along with erosion control. We'll consult with ParkWatch about the best way to control them. In the meantime, quietly call ParkWatch 866-PK-WATCH when you see one.

It's urgent that we find someone living nearby who can serve as a lead volunteer ranger. This person can receive additional training from the ParkWatch program. If you want to volunteer, or know someone who might, please let me know!!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The shoreline--a fragile filter

Imagine that you are brewing a nice cup of coffee, using fresh grounds heaped in a paper filter. Normally, the water flows through, and the grounds stay back, so you have a clear, tasty cup of java. Now imagine that when you pour the water in, the filter breaks! Your cup is filled with bitter grounds, the brew is cloudy, and your morning treat is ruined.

We're faced with the same issue at Hawksnest. The thin veil of vegetation around the lake, and the sand below, is our filter. Normally, no water gets into the lake without flowing through the vegetation and sand.

The lakeshore is especially important. Whereever the shore is undisturbed by man, thick vegetation grows right to the water, holding back and filtering any runoff from a heavy storm. This is why Hawksnest is so incredibly clear--a pond where you could see right to the bottom, 30 feet down. Coastal plain ponds like Hawksnest are actually quite rare--despite the fact that we take them for granted on Cape Cod.

When people, horses, or vehicles trample the bank, the filter is broken, and soon our pond will be ruined, just like the java.
Severe erosion on path to beach from Round Cove Rd parking area

Protecting this fragile filter all around the lake is probably the most important management goal for the entire park. It's essential if the unique quality of the pond is to be preserved. Yet the shoreline vegetation has been neglected, until erosion has finally reached the point where serious, lasting damage is about to occur. Protecting the shore at Hawksnest is all the more important, because the shores of most other ponds have been severely damaged.

The shore of a pond like Hawksnest is the only place where the Plymouth gentian grows, a plant of special interest, which property owners (the State included!) are required by law to manage for. Common sense management requires keeping people, horses and vehicles off the beach where the gentian grows.

No, I'm not saying "no swimming." For the gentian, just post signs limiting access to certain areas.

Where serious erosion of the "fragile membrane" is occurring at the Round Cove parking lot, control of erosion and restoration are urgently required. In the long run, the only way to prevent further damage to the pond's shore is to build a boardwalk where many people tread down to the beach .

Because of the humid air and mild climate, the land will heal itself in only a few years, if given the opportunity.

Boardwalk, National Seashore, Provincetown. Our boardwalk might use wire mesh, to allow vegetation to grow underneath.

Volunteer research needed at Hawksnest

If you know the answer to any of these questions, or want to work on the answer, please let me know.

  1. Are painted turtles declining? When I was a kid swimming at Hawksnest, at any one time you could see the little black heads of 4 or more painted turtles floating in the water around Hawksnest. On my last visit, I didn’t see any, though I swam around the entire pond. On my previous visit several years ago, I saw only one. Although they are primarily aquatic, the turtles do migrate from pond to pond across land, where they are often squashed by vehicles. Moreover, Route 6 to the north is a complete barrier to migration. Are the turtles really in decline?

  1. Does Plymouth gentian still grow near the isthmus? See the earlier article on this plant of special interest.

  2. Do any rare orchids or other threatened plants occur at Hawksnest?
  3. Which way does the groundwater flow at Hawksnest? Is the pond near the divide between N and S flow? If so, that might protect the pond from pollution of groundwater. If a large residential area with septic systems is upstream, that might threaten water quality at Hawksnest.

  4. Have Ospreys nested at Hawksnest in recent years? They are often seen on the NE bluff.

  5. Does flow of surface water between Black Pond and Hawksnest Pond present any problems? Boaters or pedestrians have established a shallow channel on the isthmus between the two ponds. When the wind blows, the water flows from Black Pond into Hawksnest. Is this harmful, or a benefit to Hawksnest water quality and wildlife? It might be harmful, since Black Pond has lower water quality (it’s “eutrophic”).

  6. Do box turtles occur in the woods at Hawksnest? Is Hawksnest and the undeveloped land to the east officially recognized as Eastern box turtle habitat? Have environmental impact studies been done to justify the new development there, and the widening of Seth Whitfield Road?

  7. How did Hawksnest get it's name? When you look at a map of the pond, it looks surprisingly like a hawk on a nest. The main part of the pond is the round nest, the cove is the head, and the little cove on the cove is the beak. But is there any historical suport for this conjecture?
  8. Duck hunting at Hawksnest. There’s a long tradition of duck hunting at Hawksnest, and we support it. What is the history? Who owned the old hunting camps? How and where is it practiced today? Ducking hunting figures in the career of the renowned East Harwich bird carver, A.E.Crowell.
  9. Protection for Seth Whitfield Rd. Also known as Hawksnest Rd, it runs along the western boundary of the park. Because it has county road status, it is beyond the jurisdiction of the park. Can the northern portion of the road be removed from county status? Or can it be designated as some kind of historic or rustic road, so it can be left narrow and rustic as it is now? Otherwise, it will be eventually paved and... turtles watch out!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Nature Abhors a Vacuum"

It’s an old phrase I learned in science class, but it really applies to Hawksnest. There’s a “vacuum” of responsibility--or stewardship--at the Pond. And that’s bad for nature.

Harwich police say they don’t have jurisdiction at the park because it’s state land. It's true--Nickerson State Park has nominal responsibility for Hawksnest, but they are understaffed and “don’t have two nickels to rub together.” So don’t expect to see them anytime soon. State enforcement rangers (enforce fishing licenses, etc.) do have jurisdiction, but there are only two for the whole of Cape Cod. A lot a neighbors care about Hawksnest, but most are too busy to take the lead.

I care about Hawksnest because my parents helped found the park. We summered for many years in a house by the Round Cove Rd. parking lot. And it makes me sad to see the uncontrolled abuse, with erosion channeling muddy water and dog feces into the pond. Because I’ve seen it over many years, I know the pond we love is headed for trouble, unless someone takes responsibility.

What kind of trouble? Imagine a hundred people on the beach at Hawksnest...

Beach at Nickerson State Park

Imagine a big paved parking lot, filled with cars. Imagine the wooded banks everywhere trampled, vegetation gone, sandy banks caving onto the beach.

Trampled hillside, National Seashore at Provincetown

Imagine ugly weeds tangling your body as you swim through smelly water that looks like pea-soup.

Here we are, like Scrooge with the Ghost of Hawksnest Future. We can drift towards the big beach with the big parking lot, or we can create a better future for Hawksnest. It could become an example of pristine water quality for the whole country—in a time when most people have forgotten what clean water is.

In America, there are few things as powerful as a vocal, aroused neighbors. The State and the local police will listen, if we have a cause and a common voice. So let’s get started. Grab those cameras and cell phones. Let’s fill the vacuum with something better. Yes, we can!

Rules, Regulations & Kiosks

Visitors are urged to promptly report violations to 1-866-PK-WATCH. Program the number into your cell phone. Follow up by taking a photo of the car or abuser, and license plate.

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A summary of rules follows, or... Read the complete rules here.

  1. Pack it in... pack it out (which means zero litter and no dumping)
  2. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited in all MA State Parks
  3. Parking only in designated areas
  4. No vehicles off the road or parking areas
  5. Keep pets leashed (10 foot leash maximum) at all times. Note that there may be areas posted off-limits to pets. Help us maintain a clean, healthy environment. Always clean up after your pet. Properly dispose of pet waste.
  6. No fires--anywhere (especially not on the beach)
  7. No cutting of trees, branches, downed wood, or any vegetation. And please leave pine needles in place on the ground (prevents erosion)
  8. No glass containers on the beach
  9. No soap within 100 feet of pond
  10. Respect closed areas/areas under restoration
  11. Horses not allowed on beach (danger to Plymouth gentian), and are allowed only on designated trails.
  12. No camping at Hawksnest
  13. Hikers must keep to designated trails
  14. State Parks, Hawksnest included, close at 8 pm, 5/1-8/31; on other dates, 1/2 hour after sunset.

The Need for Kiosks

MA State Parks already have rules. Rules require kiosks, parking signs, and designated trails. Most people in FHSP want as little development as possible, but there is no avoiding the kiosk. Of course, we expect these will be done as tastefully and inobtrusively as possible.

The 64-thousand dollar question is: "Will the kiosks and signs be destroyed by vandals?" Hawksnest has been a "anything goes" zone for so long that the kiosks may indeed "disappear." The answer to this concern is--at the outset, let's just make them inexpensively. If they last, then more permanent ones can be installed. We have to expect a slow transition to law and order in Dodge City.

Volunteer is needed to construct simple kiosks

  • All that's needed is something to hold a four sheets of paper, protected from the rain.
  • One kiosk for each of the two parking lots
  • Mount them in front of beach access point, on a tree (without damaging tree)
  • Check them regularly, and replace sheets or kiosk if missing
  • Sheets: map of designated trails, list of rules, Map of parking area limits, Park Watch brochure

Leash rule for dogs

Hawksnest Pond has been a wonderful place for dogs. I love dogs! I wish they could run loose. But many people are uncomfortable when approached by strange dogs, and these people have the right to be left alone. Besides, it's the law.

In addition, dogs that run free often leave a "pile" that the owner doesn't notice.

Animal and human waste near the water is a serious threat to our health and to the health of the pond. The nitrogen and phosphorus (called "nutrients") in waste stimulates the growth of algae. Each pound of waste stimulates the growth of roughly 20 pounds of weeds.) The great majority of lakes and streams in the USA have been severely damaged by the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus from septic systems, farms, pavement, and lawns. Don't let that happen here!

Equestrians: Horse manure is also harmful to the pond. Pick it up!

A Conversation with the Supervisor of Hawksnest

Yesterday, I talked to Jon Peterson by phone. He’s Supervisor of Nickerson State Park, with jurisdiction over Hawksnest.

He was very cordial, and explained that he wanted to take care of the erosion problems, but didn’t know when it would happen. Perhaps they would write a grant proposal to the Civilian Conservation Corps, to have some restoration work done at Hawksnest.

When I asked what had happened about the letter to have Round Cove Rd chained off, he explained that it was difficult. There are a lot of people who go in there—destructive people. He was sure that a gate or kiosk would be destroyed.

Jon explained the dire consequences of a state gone bust. Many Massachusetts park employees have been laid off, and budgets slashed. When I camped at Nickerson State Park last summer, it seemed very well-run, but I never saw staff in evidence, except at the entry house. I don’t doubt that he has few resources to spare for Hawksnest. That’s all the more reason for neighbors to take the initiative. All we ask is that Mr. Peterson will empower “Friends of Hawksnest” to take some minimal actions, and keep us informed of their plans.

I’ve heard that staff from Nickerson do occasionally visit Hawksnest and attend to problems. Years ago, after the state allowed two lovely cottages to rot, the remains were carted away. Several years ago, after a load of construction trash was dumped in the Park, Nickerson staff spent several hours cleaning up the mess. Another time, the road was graded, and some fallen trees cut and removed. However, I heard that removing fallen trees at the Round Cove parking lot then enabled vehicles to drive almost to the beach, making the erosion much worse. Several signs have been erected: “No dumping” and “No vehicles on the horse trail,” and blue tags have gone up, marking the park boundaries.

What would you like to see done at Hawksnest? Take the poll (right sidebar), or send me an e-mail, and I’ll pass it on.

The Chain of Command
The Governor
Rick Sullivan, Commisioner of DCR
Brian Shanahan, SE Regional Director, Office:508-866-2580 x104; mobile:508-728-9713
Don Matinzi, SE District Manager
Jon Peterson, Supervisor of Nickerson and Hawksnest State Parks. 508 896-3491

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why a "Friends" group is needed

Nowadays, nearly every park across the country has a "Friends of XX Park. In these days of tight budgets and understaffed agencies, it helps for citizens to form groups. It gives legitimacy to your voice, and officials know who to consult and where to find volunteers." Myles Standish State Forest near Plymouth has a large and active Friends group which is currently working to combat off-road vehicles (

People living around Hawksnest love that it’s undeveloped and hope to keep it that way. So, why is a Friends group needed, if everything is OK now? Well, actually, everything isn’t OK. ATVs are ripping up the trails. Dumping occurs. Parties with alcohol are littering the Round Cove Parking lot. And serious erosion is threatening the water quality of the pond itself.

Many neighbors are already working for Hawksnest. Quite a few people pick up the litter. One person has been raking away the pine needles above the beach. But these efforts are uncoordinated, and sometimes work at cross-purposes (pine needles prevent erosion). How much more we could accomplish, if we worked together!

A while back, some neighbors signed a letter asking the Park to limit vehicle access by a chain across Round Cove Rd, at the four corners. Nothing came of this effort. That’s understandable, when you look at it from a park manager’s point of view. It’s a public park—and you can imagine the protests they’d get if access were limited. But a Friends group can counter the pressure for access by having a stronger, more focused voice--backed by evidence.

A Friends group is also needed because it can take a longer view. For example, the pond is most threatened when water levels fall, exposing the beach. Then, ATVs can rip around the beach, destroying the threatened Plymouth gentian, and eroding the trails down to the lake. We need to have plans in place before low water returns—by then, it will be too late.

If current erosion is allowed to continue, the lake will become cloudy. Sand will be washed onto the beach, creating a much larger beach. That will attract more visitors, causing more erosion, more litter, and so on. If enough visitors are attracted, that will create demand for a paved road and parking lot. A Friends group can help to prevent this disaster.

There are only two enforcement rangers for the whole of Cape Cod. Abuse of places like Hawksnest occurs when people sense that no one cares. One young man driving off-road to park by the beach told me: “I can do anything I want here!” But a Friends group will create an atmosphere that people do care about the place, and that there are limits to abusive behavior. That atmosphere will do more to save Hawsknest than a whole platoon of rangers.

There's no formal structure to FHSP right now. You can "join" by sending me your name, e-mail, phone, and address; and by following this blog. Let others know about the blog. And keep me informed of any news about Hawksnest (