Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The view from above

Cape Cod is visible in the upper left... Africa on the far right.

Water is the source of all life on Earth. Protect it!

Click on photo to enlarge.
Credit: NASA Project GOES, Aug. 30, 2010.
Another amazing photo from space.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Coyotes on the Cape

Coyotes have been spreading eastward, appearing on Cape Cod about 25 years ago.  Now they are common throughout the country, often living right under the nose of urban residents.  For example, wildlife experts estimate there are over 2,000 living in Chicago, even downtown.

Coyotes are common in many parts of the Cape.  They are often sighted in nearby Nickerson State Park.  Although I haven't heard coyotes "singing" at Hawksnest, no doubt they are already there.  If present, coyotes probably keep a low profile because of the large number of dogs visiting Hawksnest.

In March of this year, coyotes attacked dogs several times in the Mill Pond area of Orleans.  These attacks may have involved rabid coyotes, since coyotes usually avoid dogs as large as the ones attacked.

But there are other reasons why coyotes attack dogs:  It may be for food (in the case of small dogs), or because coyotes see dogs as a threat to their territory or to their young.   The possibility of your pet being attacked by a coyote is one reason for keeping your dog on leash at Hawsknest, as required by park rules.

Healthy coyotes are extremely wary of humans--but attacks on humans have occurred in Cape Cod, and recently in a New York suburb.  There was a fatal attack last year on a woman in Canada.

Don't worry--attacks on humans are extremely rare.  The few that do occur are the inevitable result of large numbers of people and coyotes living close to one another.  Your chances of you or your pet being injured by a dog are far greater.

The Coywolf

Now that I've put your mind at rest--here's some unexpected news.  The coyotes on Cape Cod (and elsewhere in the Northeast) are actually wolf-coyote hybrids.  That explains why coyotes in northeastern states are larger than the coyotes out west, where they originated.  The adults on Cape Cod weigh 30-40 pounds.

Jonathan Way and three other wildlife biologists studied coyotes trapped "in and around" Barnstable, and near Boston.  Their conclusions about wolf-coyote hybrids are based on studies of DNA from the animals.  They think that as the coyotes spread eastward through Canada, they interbred with the Eastern Wolves found there.

Other interesting conclusions from the study
  • Although coyotes do interbreed with dogs in the western US, they don't in the Northeastern states.
  • "Coyote social groups...are made up of family groups.... Offspring typically remain with their parents anywhere from 6 months to about 2 years of age before dispersing to new areas.... "
  • "Typically 3–5 adults live together in a territorial pack...." The advantages of living in packs are better success in hunting large prey (like deer), better defense of the territory, improved survivability of pups, and preventing theft of prey already killed.  The packs typically consist of a breeding pair, plus a few related animals.
  • These "coywolves" seem to prefer prey more typical of coyotes than wolves.  Wolves prey almost entirely on deer, whereas the hybrids eat anything from deer to rabbits to small rodents, not to mention pets, pet food left outside, and garbage.
  • They travel long distances (10-15 miles a day), so the coyotes from Orleans could easily visit Hawksnest.
  • If you live near woods, don't leave small children or small pets outdoors alone.
  • Keep your dog on leash when in the woods.
  • Don't leave pet food outdoors; keep garbage cans covered.
  • Just use common sense.
More links

New York Times review article on coyotes
More advice about living with coyotes
Coyotes--Never out of sight, or mind (excellent essay)
Eastern coyote/coywolf web page
The Coyote Wars on Cape Cod (an essay)
Purchase Suburban Howls--a book by Jonathan Way
Animal attack files

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Walk in the Hawksnest Woods with commentary

Saturday, September 25, 10:00 am:

A Walk in the Hawksnest Woods with commentary.
Join veteran walk leader Irwin Schorr as he interprets the six ponds area.

This is one of the free, Guided Fall Walks, organized by the Harwich Conservation Trust


From Route 6, Exit 11, go west on Spruce Rd.
Park on the shoulder of Spruce Rd. near the intersection with Hawksnest Rd. (not marked).


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Erosion control at the Round Cove Rd parking area

Please pardon our dust!

Temporarily, there may be a little inconvenience.  But the work is necessary to keep the pond clean!

Staff from Nickerson State Park, plus a volunteer, have begun restoration work at the Round Cove Rd parking area.

Temporary "silt socks" act like dams, slowing runoff and catching sediment.

Two jobs are underway:
  • Stop erosion starting in the parking area, with runoff heading towards the beach.
  • Fill in the big puddle, which swallowed two cars last week!
Erosion is a threat to water quality

Runoff washes nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen into the pond.  At many ponds ringed with cottages, nutrients get into the pond from leaking septic systems.  But at Hawksnest where there's only one cottage, erosion from steep slopes all around the pond could become the biggest source.

If enough nutrients accumulate, they can stimulate the growth of toxic and stinking algae.  The sudden "blooms" of algae can completely unbalance the pond, resulting in fish kills.  Many ponds in Harwich have already been damaged by too many nutrients.  Once the nutrients get into the pond, most of them stay forever.  The pond becomes permanently damaged.

Phosphorus is insoluble, so it gets into the pond by "hitchhiking" on tiny soil particles.  Runoff also washes pet waste, and even human waste from the parking area, into the pond.  So without erosion control, the beach area could become contaminated.

The gully above the beach is too big a problem for this year--perhaps next.  But please observe the signs here, and keep your dog from running on or digging in the bank.

How silt socks work

The socks are filled with pure sand.  They act as a dam, slowing the runoff and allowing it to sink into the porous soil.  If the ground gets to wet for the runoff to sink in, then the socks slow the water, and catch the sediment.

One value of silt socks is that you don't have to disturb the ground or the roots where they are laid.

In appreciation of the "world-class" status of Hawksnest swimming, the socks were donated thanks to a company in Wisconsin.

No parking near the giant puddle

Once this spot was a beautiful open glen, with ferns and lady slipper orchids.  But as the upper parking area eroded, it became a basin, sending more water towards the puddle.  The puddle became an unsightly hazard for vehicles, plus a "cesspool" for waste washing from the parking area.

Giant puddle, smoothed.  Still very soft!  Next: leaf litter on top.

Now the smoothed-over puddle looks solid, but it is very soft under the surface.  Vehicles will sink in, ruining the restoration.  That's why parking has to be banned here.  But you may park in the hollow, on the side of the road AWAY from the pond.  There's room for several vehicles there.

Once restored, the hollow will be a lovely spot to rest, after a swim.  If you see parking violations here, please report to Harwich Police (508-430-7541).

One trail to beach will be closed

Hawksnest is a fragile resource, because of the steep, easily-erodible banks around most of the pond. From time to time, it may be necessary to close some trails if they become eroded, to allow time for vegetation to recover. We want to maintain access--trail closure is simply a good management tool. If a trail has to be closed, usually it will be only temporary.

As you face the pond from parking, on your LEFT there's a steep trail to the pond (see photo).  This needs to be closed for several reasons:
  • Safety--the trail is steep, with roots and exposed wires (from a former cabin) ready to trip the unwary.  If you fall, exposed cement blocks add to the danger.
  • Erosion.  This is a long, steep trail.  If erosion ever gets a head start, it will be very costly to repair.  Once the roots become undermined and broken (as a few are), it's the beginning of runaway erosion.
The horse trail that heads west from the upper parking area may be redirected.  That's because it is starting to erode, and contributes stormwater to the big puddle.  This trail won't be closed--just a slight change in route.

You can help avoid trail closures--he best way is to help with the trails.  If your favorite trail starts to show signs of erosion, dig a little ditch to deflect the runoff to the side.  Or, build a little log step that deflects the runoff.

The trail to the southeast beach (from the middle of Round Cove Rd) could be an area of future erosion.  It's becoming more heavily used, and heads downhill.  Please help prevent closure and maintain this trail!

The State's plans for future work

In June, the DCR applied to the Harwich Conservation Commission for a permit to undertake permanent erosion improvements in the Round Cove Rd area.  When the Commission voiced concerns about access to the area, and that people in Harwhich didn't have time to voice their opinions, the State withdrew the plan.  (The State's plan for the Walker Rd parking area were approved.)

The DCR will resubmit the Round Cove Rd plan for approval, after there's been ample time for public discussion, probably sometime this fall.

However, even if those plans are approved, the work may never take place.  That's because this is an election year, and also the State has NO funds for this kind of work.  Because the erosion was becoming steadily worse, Friends of Hawksnest persuaded the State to permit the temporary erosion control measures you see in progress.  All the work you see has been approved by State officials.

The permanent plans did not include beach access at Round Cove Rd.  Whether that was an oversight, or an active plan to limit access, we don't know. 

Nevertheless, Friends of Hawksnest supports beach access from Round Cove Rd.  We support any legal use of the park.

Some comments we've heard about the work

We've heard numerous words of encouragement.

What do you think?  I hope it's not inconvenient.
Anything is better than nothing!

This is really ugly! (referring to the black silt socks)
I know, we think it's ugly too.  But if vegetation gets re-established, it's going to look a lot better.  The restored puddle already looks a lot better.  If it's ugly, do you blame the people repairing the damage, or the folks who made the repairs necessary?

It's been eroding on Cape Cod since the Indians.
Well, yes, there's a lot of erosion along the salt water beaches.  The wind, waves, and tides are a powerful force.  People are used to seeing eroded banks at the ocean beach.  But eroding banks around sheltered ponds used to be very rare.  That's why some ponds are so clean.  Unlike the ocean, the ponds can't absorb the pollution from erosion.

Erosion is natural--water runs downhill.
True, gravity is natural.  If a tree falls on you, that's natural.  But it doesn't mean it's desirable.  Vegetated shores keep the pond clean.  "If the shore is green, the pond is clean."  Before settlement, the vegetation everywhere was intact.  Losing the shore vegetation is bad management.  Erosion and the loss of water quality is a "natural consequence" of a bad management practice.

Every pond I've seen in Cape Cod has erosion.  It's natural.
True, most ponds have eroding banks, and most ponds in Cape Cod are damaged.  Some are already  badly polluted with algae.  Hawksnest is one the the last pristine ponds.  Let's keep it undamaged, so your grandchildren can swim in pure water, just as you do now.

Monday, August 2, 2010

New rules passed for Town conservation lands

"In an effort to deter illegal dirt bike use and to stem an increase in the vandalism of hiking trail signs and kiosks on town conservation lands, selectmen approved new regulations that carry fines of $100 to $300."  Source.

Visitor rules for conservation lands
"No unauthorized motor vehicles
 No camping
 No alcoholic beverages
 No fires, fireworks, or firearms (except where hunting is permitted)
 No littering or dumping
 No defacing or removal of signs or structures
 No disturbing the natural environment
 No unruly or boisterous conduct"

The rules will be enforced by Harwich Police.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A rare plant community grows along the shore of Hawksnest Pond

The Plymouth gentian found at Hawksnest and Black ponds, is a species of Special Concern.

Hawksnest Pond was formed when the retreating glacier left behind a huge block of ice, half-buried in the sand.  When the ice melted, it left a large depression called a kettle pond, or a coastal plain pond.  A coastal plain pond is one of the rarest wetland types in North America.

The plants growing along the sandy shore of Hawksnest Pond together make up the Coastal Plain Pondshore Community.  We'll call it the Pondshore Community for short.  It's composed of a mixture of herbaceous and grass-like plants, growing between the shallow water and the shrubs that surround the pond.

They grow in soil ranging from patches of sand, sandy or muddy peat, to cobbles.

The pondshores in the Six Ponds District of Harwich are considered an "imperiled plant community" by the State.  Not only is this plant community home to several rare species, but it also helps safeguard the pristine water quality of Hawksnest.

A constantly changing environment

The Pondshore Community occurs in those ponds with no surface inlet or outlet, and with a gradual slope to the shore. The community develops best in small ponds or bays of larger ponds--places that avoid the wave and ice damage typical of large ponds.

The ponds are windows into the groundwater, which moves easily through the sand surrounding the ponds. As a result, the water level rises and falls with the water table through the seasons, which in most years leaves exposed shores expanding throughout the summer.

Many of the plant species are able to start growth from seed, perennial basal leaves, or roots while inundated with water in the spring.  They grow in the increasingly dry, nutrient poor soils as the season progresses.  Other plants may germinate only when exposed.

Hawksnest during high water, usually early in the year. 
Flooding keeps shrubs back, enabling Plymouth gentian to compete.

In wet years, when the water level does not recede as far as in dry years, the plants may grow vegetatively while submerged, with little flowering, or may not grow or germinate at all.

Not only do the water levels change through the year, but between years as well.  Only one year in about 5 may be dry enough for the community to develop fully. The lowering of water levels during the growing season is probably the single most important factor in providing suitable habitat for the plants of the Pondshore Community.

Hawksnest during drought, 1993. Because the plants require low water to reproduce, they are most vulnerable to foot traffic at this time.

The waters of coastal plain ponds tend to be nutrient poor and acidic. The plants of the Pondshore Community are particularly adapted to the nutrient poor conditions--so they are able to compete with plants from other communities that require more nutrients.
The periodic flooding of the shore also helps to keep out shrubs and upland plants, and the periodic drying keeps out aquatic plants.
Characteristics of the community
The Pondshore Community contains a number of plants which seldom occur elsewhere. Some may be locally abundant, mixed in with more common marsh emergents such as rushes, sedges, Boneset and Purple Gerardia.
The plants of the community appear to form zones between the water and the shrubs around the pond. The driest zone, inundated only in the highest water, may have New England boneset* or Maryland meadow-beauty, both considered rare in Massachusetts. The higher shoreline is home to Thread-leaved sundew (common on these ponds but uncommon elsewhere), and Spatulate-leaved sundew.  The mid to upper level is home to redroot (a species of special concern) found in the Six Ponds District.
Threats and Management

Pondshore Communities have several threats caused by human disturbance. The community requires natural fluctuation of the water levels along the shore. Artificially maintained high water levels reduce the area of shore available for the Pondshore Community. Most of the plants of the community can withstand high water for a few years, which happens naturally, but most need to be out of water to reproduce.

Human use of the pondshores, including walking, offroad vehicles, and beach building, restricts plant growth. Experiments have shown that a few walking trips can create a trail where no plants grow. In areas of heavy use, the plants of the Pondshore Community can easily be eliminated.

Nutrient enrichment from septic systems poses a serious long-term threat to the natural balance** of ponds.  This can change the character of the ponds, allowing algae and pondweeds not native to the ponds to grow and reduce the habitat available to the plants of the Pondshore Community.

Excessive drawdown from pumping at town wells reduces natural fluctuations and allows woody species to advance down the shores.

Gallery of members of the community

The carnivorous spatulate-leaved sundew, by Debbie Barnegat. Not rare, but uncommon.

Maryland meadow beauty, by Ken Clark. Shown on maps in Brewster. Last seen in Harwich in 1918--I don't know if it has been seen at Hawksnest.

#     #     #

*    New England boneset (Eupatorim novae-angliae) appears to be a hybrid of two other plants, but can persist in an area without both parent species present, so is though to be a distinct species.  Not known to have occurred at Hawksnest.

**  The upset in natural balance of ponds from too many nutrients, causing fast "aging" of the pond and blooms of toxic algae, is called "eutrophication."

This article is quoted and condensed from a fact sheet.
You can find a list of rare species for Harwich here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

An open letter to the Harwich Police Dept

An open letter from the Friends of Hawksnest to Chief William Mason, Harwich Police Dept.

Dear Chief Mason and other Harwich officials,

The Friends of Hawksnest are respectfully requesting the Town of Harwich to devote a higher priority to ending unlawful behavior at Hawksnest State Park.

This behavior includes
• Off road vehicle use—causes erosion
• Parties with alcohol—leads to broken bottles, litter, noise, and danger of injury
• Groups of people present after the 8:00 pm closing time—leads to other abuses
• Litter and human waste—danger to public health and the pond
• Illegal fires—phosphorus in the ashes will lead to toxic algae growth
• Illegal camping—leads to other abuse

We believe that controlling illegal behavior at the Round Cove Rd parking area is the key to conserving the pristine water quality, and to improving the recreational experience for all at Hawksnest.  Even the State's plans to restore eroded areas can't succeed without more enforcement at Hawksnest.

Among the various enforcement agencies, we believe Harwich Police are best positioned and equipped to respond, so they should be part of any solution. We believe that the acceptance of about $130,000 a year in State funds, because of Hawksnest, enables and obligates the town to help protect Hawksnest for the next generation of Harwich residents.

The Friends of Hawksnest volunteer to help with citizen patrols and public education.  Would a two-week campaign of increased patrols, coupled with press releases, help?

We ask the Town Government to work actively with other enforcement agencies, coordinate closely with them, and to coordinate closely with Friends of Hawksnest and Harwich Conservation Trust.

If working together, we can't significantly reduce the abuse, the State may feel compelled to close the to Round Cover Rd entrance to public vehicles.  After all, their top mandate is to protect the resource for future generations of Harwich residents.

While we recognize that resources are scarce, we do believe that improvements can be made through careful cooperation and coordination with all parties.

We thank you for your help with patrols so far this year.

David Thompson, for Friends of Hawksnest

Examples of some illegal behaviors we've observed since 6/17/10
Click on photos to enlarge

Alcohol parties; parties after 8:00 closing.  Find out here why parties are bad for the pond.

Human waste in parking area, in a watershed protection zone.
This drains to a puddle, which many vehicles splash through.

The ashes from illegal fires will fertilize the pond, creating blooms of toxic algae..

Why floating parties aren’t good for Hawksnest

Floating parties—when people bring water toys, join them together, and drift out into the pond—are popular at Hawksnest State Park.

They look like lots of fun, in the late afternoon sun.

Twelve people on rafts with beer.
With no rest room, that’s a lot of urine in the pond...
It acts as a nutrient that stimulates toxic algae growth.

But floating parties aren’t good for the pond
• Lots of urine in the water will stimulate algae growth (no restrooms at the park)
• Lots of litter and cans on the bottom
• Erosion from many vehicles in the parking lot
• Party people leave intoxicated, a danger to other drivers

Alcohol is prohibited in all State Parks--period. But when reading the regulations online, I was puzzled why inflatable beach toys are prohibited in the parks.
When I went swimming with my mask and snorkel the day after the party, I found out why: There were dozens of empty beer cans lying on the bottom of the pond.

This time, there wasn’t any litter left over. That’s because the Environmental Police came to the party.

Because of thoughtless behavior like this, the Round Cover entrance to Hawksnest may be closed to public vehicles. It’s the only way to protect the resource.

Protect the pond for the next generation to enjoy.

Party parking at Round Cove Rd causes erosion.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Protecting land around Hawksnest

Land around Hawksnest State Park:
pink=State ownership
green=Town conservation
light green=Harwich Conservation Trust
brown=unknown owner
blue=Harwich water (not well protected)
gray photo=private ownership

Hawksnest is an incomplete state park...

There are two parcels on the shore of Hawksnest Pond still in private hands, and undeveloped land on the borders of the park is gradually being developed.  There are tentative plans for a golf course on undeveloped land to the SE of the park. 

There are numerous reasons to protect land around Hawksnest--including habitat for wildlife, protection of several endangered species of damselfly, protection of the groundwater that feeds the pond from comtamination for septic systems, and finally protection of the Harwich water supply.   Hawksnest is within the area that feeds water to town wells.

Here are ways you can help protect Hawksnest park, from the Harwich website:

1.Land donation: Landowners can obtain tax incentives in exchange for donating land to wellfield or wellhead protection use.

2.Conservation restriction: Property remains in private hands, but owner agrees not to develop all or part of it in order to protect water quality. Cape towns will lower property taxes on the land under restriction. Also useful for income tax deductions and estate planning.

3.Charitable sale: Seller agrees to take less money than the appraised market price for the land in exchange for tax deductions.

4.Reserved life estate: An owner continues to live on the property, while conveying the title to a water purveyor or other conservation entity. Income tax deductions accrue to owner, depending on how much longer they can be expected to enjoy use of the property.

5.Current use assessment: An owner of five acres or more enrolls each year with town, promising to keep the land in its natural or cultivated condition, rather than develop it. Property taxes are reduced significantly and the town acquires the right to buy the property if sold for other uses.

Friends of Hawksnest encourage crackdown on ORVs

On June 25, an ORV and a motorbike driven by two kids were spotted on Round Cove Rd and Spruce Rd.  Harwich Police were called, but arrived a few minutes too late to catch the kids.  They returned again the following evening, and this time, one of them drove down the gully to the beach .

That evening, Friends of Hawksnest tracked the ORV to the house it came from.  We used enlarged photos of the tires (taken when they were seen in Hawksnest), matched the photos to tracks, and then followed the tracks to their house. 

The next day, Harwich Police visited the boys, and found the ORVs in the garage.  They won't be returning to Hawksnest again.  Then we talked to one of the boys and his father, and had a frank exchange of views.  Because of the honest discussion, we have removed the photo of the two boys riding their ORVs in Hawksnest.

While neighbors say ORV abuse at Hawksnest has declined, there are still signs of recent ORV use on some trails.  ORVs began the erosion of the large gully by the beach that the State is hoping to restore.  The contract for fixing erosion at both parking lots is going to cost several hundred thousand dollars--so damage caused by ORVs, when allowed to fester, can cost serious bucks.

Any off-road vehicles (ORVs) at Hawknest are illegal.  "ORV use is permitted only on designated ORV trails within the forest management. Designated ORV trails will be marked with trailhead signage and/or orange or yellow trail blazes. All other state parks, reservations and forests are closed to ORV use at all times."  Source

On exploring further, we found that Hawksnest is surrounded by an extensive network of ORV trails.  There is one running east along the south side of the Mid Cape Highway.  Riders have cut holes in the fence bordering Rte 6, allowing them to access Hawksnest, gravel pits, and other areas.  There are access points to this network from the Queen Ann Rd, Rte 137, and Rte 39.  These trails connect with two large sand pits in the area.

Since the Town of Harwich gets about $130,000 a year in payments from the State because of Hawksnest, we think the Town should be involved in helping stop illegal behavior there.

What you can do to help
  • If you visit Hawksnest, carry your cell phone and camera.  Get a photo of the rider, then make a call to the Harwich Police508-430-7541 (then dial 0 to get a dispatcher).
  • Help us put up NO ORV signs.
  • Sign our petition.
  • The will soon be a meeting of Harwich officials to decide how to respond to this and similar issues.   Attend the meeting.  We'll publish details when we find out more.
  • Write a letter to the editor, your Selectman or Chief William Mason .
Neighbors and Friends of Hawksnest can make a difference, if we work consistently and together.

Our goals

Harwich Police, State Police, Environmenal Police, and Nickerson State Park rangers can all respond.  For years, each enforcement group has been saying the other agency is responsible.  Now Harwich Police have accepted some responsibility for responding to complaints.  But Sgt. Kevin Considine explains they are stretched very thin--and that we may not be satisfied with their response times.

What we are asking for is better coordination.  Can these various agencies divide up the times?  Can Harwich respond on weekends, for example, and Nickerson staff on weekdays?  If one agency cannot respond, will they call another to fill the gap?  Can Friends make official patrols less necessary by mounting their own patrols?   All involved need to talk.

It's DCR official policy to "cooperate with law enforcement agencies" in combating ORV abuse.

Finally, Friends of Hawksnest needs to know if an agency has responded.  This is not to "harrass" the Harwich police or any other responder--it's simply to keep our people motivated, and to help us know how we can best be of help.  There's nothing more demoralizing to a helpful citizen than making a call, then never knowing if that call made a difference, or if anyone responded.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Friends of Hawksnest begin "Citizen Patrol"

Recently Friends of Hawksnest visited Sgt. Consadine of the Harwich Police, to discuss problems at the Round Cove Rd parking area.

Consadine was cordial--he said that the Department couldn't patrol frequently, because the dreadful condition of Round Cove Rd had damaged patrol cars in the past.  But he said the Department would respond to calls reporting a problem from residents.

Both the town and State are thin on resources.  Nevertheless, we feel that the Town Police should be the one to respond to complaints of abuse, because they are properly equipped, and have cruisers in the area.  The Town is compensated by the DCR for loss of tax revenues caused by the park, so it's fitting and proper that the Town contribute something to the park.

The staff of Nickerson State Park should respond to other kinds of complaints, such as cleanup of illegal fires or dumping.  Friends of Hawksnest can do its part by patrolling, and keeping the area picked up.

To report a problem, call the Harwich Police non-emergency number: 508-430-7541, then dial 0.  A dispatcher will relay your report to an available officer.  If the road has puddles, only the SUV vehicle may respond.

Last weekend, Friends of Hawksnest mounted a patrol for three nights (6/18-20), checking the Round Cove Rd parking area after closing time (8:00 pm).  All was quiet the first two nights (the mosquitoes helped), but on Sunday night, and illegal camper was discovered.   The police were summoned, and responded in 14 minutes.Thank you, Harwich!
Update: On Friday, 6/25, a large beach party with alcohol was spotted at closing time, plust two ATVs, so the Environmental Police were summoned.  We don't know if they responded.
Why patrols are important

Everyone wishes Hawksnest could be the "town swimming hole," with no regulations or patrols--where people could enjoy the swimming and "just do their thing."

That's the way it has been for the last 30 years.  But unfortunately, things have steadily gone downhill at the two parking areas.  In the 1990s, ATVs going to the beach (during drought years) broke down the bank, causing the ugly gully that now threatens the pond with pollution.  Irresponsible use at Round Cove Rd parking has led to erosion, illegal fires, cutting of trees to expand parking, litter, broken glass--and now, much human waste strewn about.

Finally, the State has plans to restore the erosion at both parking area.  But these plans won't be successful if the abuse continues.  The plantings will surely be ripped up by vehicles and ATVs. 

So to preserve Hawksnest for future generations, it's essential to regain "control" of the parking areas.  In talking about it, I've encountered statements like "kids will be kids," or "the vandals will have their way, no matter what you do."

I don't agree.  If people care enough, and if they're willing to give a little of that caring back to the Pond, then they can make a difference.

If we can get enough people involved, the best approach is a patrol of two people, who rely on the power of persuasion to get party-goers to leave.  If that fails, then call the police.  Persuasion and education will gain more friends for the park in the long run.

For now, I'd recommend enforcing:
  • Park closing time 8:00 pm
  • No alcohol--leads to all kinds of abuse
  • No camping--leads to fires, litter, human waste
  • No fires--ashes lead to growth of algae in pond
  • Pack out what you carry in
  • No vehicles off-road

Round Cove Rd may be paved

Round Cove Rd may be paved, from Rte 137 southwest to the furthest house, said Lincoln Hooper, Director of the Dept. of Public Works.  About 14 residents along the unpaved road recently petitioned the Department, asking that it be paved.  Four residents were not in favor of paving. 

Director Hooper supports paving, because he says the current dirt road requires constant maintenance.  Paving will save the town maintenance funds in the long run, although the payback time would be quite long.

Hooper says the paving isn't going to happen soon. The road is narrow, and pipes buried beneath the road are going to complicate the process, Hooper said.

Implications for Hawksnest State Park

Paving will increase the convenience of access to the Round Cove Rd parking area in Hawksnest State Park.  This in turn makes completion of the State's erosion control and restoration plan for Hawksnest Pond all the more urgent.

Since the DCR's plan calls for closing of public vehicle access from Round Cove Rd, yet grading to improve police and fire access, overall access to the pond for police (from paving of the outer portion, plus grading of the inner portion) will be greatly improved.  This should lead to a decrease in the litter and illegal parties that have defaced the parking area at Hawksnest Pond.  The litter and parties are one of the main complaints of residents around the park.

Likewise, paving of Round Cove Rd may increase use of Seth Whitfield County Way (Hawksnest Rd), so that road should be protected as a Scenic and Historic Byway.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Withdrawn--DCR plan to limit access by vehicles from Round Cove Rd

Update--July 3: At first I fully supported the DCR plan for the Round Cove Rd. parking areas.  That plan called for repairing the erosion above the beach, plus closing the road at the four corners to public vehicles (pedestrian access would still be encouraged). 

The reason for my support was that I didn't see how the erosion could be stopped (this season, before the big restoration could begin) without reducing the number of people entering from Round Cove Rd.

However, on talking to some families at Hawksnest, I realized that cutting off vehicular access would be a hardship for families with children, and others coming for a quick swim.

How Round Cove Rd came to be the main access

Plan for closure of Round Cove Rd--the real facts

The current DCR plan for restoring erosion at Hawksnest called for closing Round Cove Rd to public vehicular traffic.  The closure would occur close to the corner with Seth Whitfield Rd (Hawksnest Rd), with provision for informal parking there. 

Note that the plan does NOT call for closure to police, park, or emergency vehicles.  Public vehicles would be stopped by a gate, but the road itself would actually be improved with grading, increasing access to police and emergency vehicles.  With the planned grading, police patrols could be increased, helping to control abuse at the Round Cove Rd parking area.

The DCR plan does call for stopping access to the new, lower parking area at Round Cove Rd.  Access would be stopped by piling woody debris there.  The newspaper erroneously reported that this barrier would be created at the four corners, stopping ALL traffic.  Nope.  Access to official vehicles will actually be improved.

The current plan for restoration at Round Cove parking has been withdrawn by DCR, to give the public more time to comment, and possibly to revise the plan.  I support the current plan, with minor modifications.  One of my reasons is that the improved access planned from Walker and Spruce Roads will actually be more convenient.

History of access to Hawksnest

When Hawksnest became a state park in the late 1970's, access from Round Cove Rd was actually quite good.  You could drive up to 50 mph on the road.  For this reason, plus the fact that it was a continuation of a larger road on the other side of SR 137, more people went to the pond via Round Cove Rd.

Sometime early in the Park's history, access via Round Cove Road at the four corners was blocked by a chain.  This lasted for some years.  So the plan to limit access here isn't new.

In contrast, access via Walker Rd was known to few.  When the Mid Cape Highway was constructed, Spruce Rd was built as a frontage Rd.  It served no one except a few cabins on Walker Rd.  It was truly the road to nowhere.   So as Round Cove Rd deteriorated, people kept coming that way.  They just followed old habits.   Today, access via Spruce Road is really more convenient and safe for vehicles.  When the planned improvements are made there, access will be still more convenient.

So, I feel that people who object to the closing of Round Cove Rd (from the four corners) to public vehicles are following habit.  They will still have rapid access from Spruce Rd.  There is more paving along this route, and Walker Rd, although dirt, is in good shape.

Some folks say their kids like to walk to the pond via Round Cove Road.  When the road becomes closed to vehicles from the four corners, it will be SAFER for kids to walk.   Parents can still give kids a lift to the four corners.
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This news story was unclear, helping to create the misimpression that access at the four corners would be blocked by woody debris, thus blocking even official vehicles.  In fact, the woody barrier would block access only to the big muddy puddle and newly created, renegade parking next to the pond.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hawksnest State Park now a danger to public health

On June 17, I checked the Round Cove Rd parking area for the first time this year.  This is the area that DCR had proposed to close to vehicles, so that soil erosion threatening the pond with pollution could be repaired.

As usual, I found much litter, including two illegal fire pits, plus an abandoned microwave oven.

Human waste

What was new this time was a large amount of human waste, unburied in the parking area.  There were 2-3 locations used more than once in the actual parking area--with unburied human feces--plus at least three other areas probably used once.  One of these was closer to the pond.  Dog waste was also found.

Human waste and litter at the Round Cove Rd parking area.

On June 16, the Town of Falmouth closed their public water supply because fecal coliform was detected in the tap water.  While Falmouth's public water comes in part from a pond, the soil in Cape Cod is very porous, and even Harwich's wells could be threatened, if the unsanitary behavior found at Hawksnest is allowed to occur elsewhere.  Links to more photos.


Erosion had become worse, especially along the road formed last year by 4X vehicles, which established a second informal parking area closer to the pond.  The upper parking area is becoming a basin, channeling runoff towards the pond.

However, this runoff could be redirected away from the pond with a solution as simple as a single sediment sock (a roll of environmental fabric filled with sand).

Monday, June 14, 2010

State withdraws plan for Round Cove Rd at Hawksnest

The Conservation Commission of Harwich was going to consider the restoration plan for Hawksnest State Park next Tuesday, June 15.  But the State has withdrawn (without prejudice) the part of the plan for Round Cove Rd.  Apparently, they want to provide more opportunity for input by the public.  When there has been sufficient public input, the Round Cove Rd plan may be modified and resubmitted to the Conservation Commission for approval.

The Commission was going to discuss the part of the plan for Round Cove Road, at the SE corner of the pond.  The portion of the plan for restoring erosion on the SW corner, near Walker Rd, was approved at the last meeting.  That portion of the plan involved creating a 5-car parking area, plus rain gardens to prevent polluted runoff from reaching the lake.

The remaining plans (that have been withdrawn) call for restoration of serious erosion at the Round Cove Rd parking area, plus closing that entrance to vehicular traffic.  Pedestrians will still be able to access that area with its trails and swimming beach.

Problems at the Round Cove Rd parking area are what triggered the restoration plans.  The bare, eroding parking area was collecting runoff and shooting it towards the pond--creating an ugly gully leading to the beach, plus a huge, muddy puddle that threatened to break through to the pond. 

It's going to be difficult to restore this area while it continues to see heavy use.  Another reason behind the plan to close the area to vehicles is the unsuitability of this area to heavy visitation.  Bluffs and banks on this side are highly vulnerable to erosion, as shown by the present gully.  In contrast, the other parking area near Walker Rd is not close to a bluff.

Another issue to consider is maintenance of the road to the Round Cove Rd parking area.  If vehicles continue to use that entrance with its terrible road, then pressure for improving the road will increase, with the added expense.  Increased visitation there will only compound the erosion problems.

Out-of-control parties at the Round Cove Rd parking area have always been a concern.  They create a lot of litter and pollution from illegal fires.  These parties are illegal, because the park closes at 8:00 pm, fires are illegal, and alcohol is prohibited.  The parties should be easier to control at the Walker Rd parking area, because police will have easier access to that entrance.  Moreover, the ParkWatch program has been strengthened.

Once the plans are finalized and the current damage is restored, the next priority is to develop plans to protect the shoreline vegetation.  It's this vegetation that ensures the pristine water quality at Hawksnest.

*     *     *

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Support open space--attend Harwich Town Meeting

Please attend the Harwich Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 3, 2010.

Vote "YES" to purchase approximately 38 acres. Protect town drinking water and wildlife habitat next to 235 acres of open space.

The Town Real Estate and Open Space Committee will update voters on funding the project at Town Meeting.

More information.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Friends Network facilitators were able to meet Governor Deval Patrick at their recent conference. They handed the Governor a ParkWatch brochure, and told him that friends groups across the state would like to have ParkWatch signs in every forest and park. ParkWatch is a statewide program designed to protect public open space by giving visitors a number to call to report suspicious or illegal activity.
The ParkWatch number is now operational, and a Ranger is available 24 hours/7days a week to take your calls. The Ranger on duty will forward your report to the appropriate agency; one or more of the following: MA DCR staff, Environmental Police, State Police, Municipal Police, or a Ranger. Wherever you are in the state, one number is all you need to remember: 1-866-PK-WATCH.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A vision for Hawksnest State Park (draft)

Hawksnest has survived so far due to very light visitation.  But changes are underway that could increase visitation, disrupting the delicate balance at Hawksnest.
  • The Harwich Trails Committee is considering a parking lot just off Spruce Road (on Town land), plus publicising trails in the area.
  • DCR is undertaking restoration work at the Round Cove Rd. parking area.
  • Hawksnest Road (south end) is being paved, with houses to follow.  
The only way to minimize harm is to develop a vision and a plan for the future of Hawksnest. 

We don't want to undertake "improvements" that would be inconsistent with a thoughtful future for Hawksnest.  Otherwise, the damage is done--the horse has fled the barn.

Overall goals

1. Quiet recreation in an undisturbed, natural setting. (Not another crowded Nickerson SP with lots of development.)

2. Preservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat, natural views, and cultural heritage.

3. Preservation of the pristine water quality and the ring around the shore of undisturbed vegetation that filters the water.

4. Future development of a site near Hawksnest and Black Ponds for teaching local school children and the public about water quality and the groundwater resource.

Important milestones toward these goals

1. Establishment of kiosks to encourage wise and lawful use.

2. Beach use and access only on south shore of Hawksnest Pond.  The sandy bluffs on the north side are very vulnerable to erosion, so pond access must be carefully controlled here.

3. Development of a plan for shore access points and trails, with appropriate uses for each trail.

4. Development of a long-range plan for vehicle access and parking areas, keeping in mind the visitation capacity of the park without damage from overuse (in the absence of patrol).

5. Placement of port-a-potties in parking or heavy use areas, to prevent eutrophication of the pond.

6. Work with local teachers to incorporate visits to Hawksnest into environmental education plans.

7.  Writing of a handbook about the history, cultural values, and natural values of Hawksnest park.  If people don't know what's there, they won't work to save it.

8. Change the official designation of the north portion of Hawksnest Rd. (Seth Whitfield County Road) from a "county road" to a scenic way, rustic road or "ancient way."  Since it bisects the park, this road--if ever enlarged or paved-- represents one of the greatest threats to the park.  With the south portion being paved, it's only a matter of time....

9. Adding area to the park before all empty land around it is developed.

Will Hawksnest restoration be a success?

I haven't been able to reach Jim Straub to find out what the plans are for restoration at Hawksnest.  Unable to comment on the plans, I decided to post criteria that would help DCR and Friends of Hawksnest decide whether the plans and the work  are a success.

1. Does the work address the most serious issues of erosion, runoff into the lake, and uncontrolled parking at both parking areas?* 

2. Does the work provide the utmost protection for water quality, now and in the future?  To  protect water quality, runoff and erosion must be prevented, and the ring of vegetation around the shore must be kept completely intact.

3. Is the work consistent with the character of Hawksnest--enjoyment of quiet recreation, nature, and cultural history, in an undisturbed natural setting?  (This means avoiding construction with non-native materials, such as gravel or concrete.)

4. Does the work create an impression that people care about Hawksnest, and help to control abuse?

I'd like to explain why this last point--the "appearance of care"--is important.  Hawksnest has been unsupervised and abused since the park was established in the 1970s.  The only thing preventing destruction of this fragile resource has been the light visitation--around 50 a day in the summer--because few have known about it, and because Round Cove Road is so rough.  Another thing that has protected Hawksnest is the absence of a sandy beach during times of high water.  We appreciate that neighbors over the years have picked up the trash, while Nickerson personnel have picked up a few loads of rubbish that were dumped, and police have made occasional patrols.

Now, with plans of the Harwich Trails Committee to promote trails in the area, and possibly a new parking area off Spruce Road, visitation is likely to increase.  This could upset the fragile balance, and things could rapidly deteriorate.  In the worst case, I can imagine swimmers heading for the north shore of Hawksnest from the new parking area on that side, alowing people to bypass Round Cove Road.  Seeking access to the beach, they climb down the steep, sandly bluffs--in a single season turning them into big funnels of sand onto the beach.  This creates a larger beach, even during times of high water, so more visitors come.  At this point, the water quality has been ruined, and the ugly scars will be nearly impossible to restore, with people continuing to climb on the sand.

It seems unlikely there will ever be much enforcement or frequent maintenance at Hawksnest--so we have to rely on a careful balance of restricted access, pickup of litter by volunteers, public education (kiosks), and creating an "atmosphere of care."

Studies have shown that people are more likely to litter, if litter is already present.  Facilities create an atmospere that visitors respond to.  If the facilities are poorly designed or maintained, and if they are ugly, then people will assume that no one cares--that anything goes.  So signs, parking design, boardwalks, and kiosks need to be neat and aesthetic.

I know the State is strapped for funds.  I'm not talking about gold-plated handles on the port-a-potty.  But I do believe if they put a little more into careful design and aesthetics, then it will pay back in terms of less abuse, littler, and vandalism.   If the State needs to save funds, then save by not improving (or not maintaining) Round Cove Road, or by closing the Walker Road parking lot.

Some DCR personnel have expressed the view that they don't want to install a kiosk, because it would only be vandalized.  Well--make it sturdy, and replace it if necessary.  You can't enforce rules or appropriate trail use, if rules aren't posted.  You can't encourage wise use, if you don't provide guidance.  A kiosk is essential.
*    *    *
* At Round Cove Rd. parking area, the most serious erosion is runoff from the parking area, the gully above the beach, and runoff from the road, which threatenes to break through into the pond from the "giant puddle."

I would appreciate hearing your comments.  Send me an email, or post comments below.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Restoration work in planning stage for parking areas at Hawksnest

The following has been revised, based on a phone conversation 3/10 with JS.

I've been informed by Jim Straub, Lakes and Ponds Manager for DCR, they are working on a plan to restore the Round Cove Road parking area, and possibly the Walker Rd. Parking area.  As part of the process, they will request all the necessary permits. The plans should be ready early- to mid-May.

However, there is no money in the budget for the work--but at least it will be ready to go, should funds become available sometime in the future.  I'll provide more details as soon as I learn of them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Committee forming for recommendations on enforcement of Off Highway Vehicles

Off Highway Vehicles (OHV) have been a serious problem at Hawksnest in the past.  They still are causing serious erosion by driving too close to the beach from the Round Cove Road parking area.  The following is reprinted from Friends Network.

OHV parked just above the beach at Hawksnest.

"Some of you are part of the OHV community and recognize that illegal use is damaging to your image as a user group and understand the negative impact of that. Others are people who have had unfortunate encounters and feel intimidated and threatened by riders. Still others are concerned about the negative impacts to the environment caused by illegal use. People in both camps are disappointed by the inability of government officials to address our concerns.

The Friends Network is forming an ad-hoc committee to produce recommendations for a comprehensive OHV enforcement plan that contains a strong citizen component. Our goal is to submit the recommendations to the DCR Stewardship Council as a guide to establishing a workable plan that can be used using the current regulations as well as work under new laws that may be passed in the future.

This meeting will be focused on one issue. Enforcement. We do not intend to revisit the comprehensive work of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) OHV Enforcement Working Group. Once the bill using their work is passed we expect that a committee will be established for ongoing discussions between the OHV Community and others. Our intention is to review a plan developed by members of the Friends Network and to ask for your suggestions and input.

We believe this committee should include representatives of off-highway vehicle, snowmobile, mountain biking, hiking, equestrian, birding, and environmental organization’s interests. Additionally, we’re asking support from state agencies charged with development and enforcement of OHV regulations, including DCR officials, MA Environmental Police, State and local police, Bureau of Ranger Services, DCR staff where riding is legal, DCR staff where riding is illegal.

We won’t be starting from scratch. Over the past 3 years, Friends Network Facilitators have collected data and suggestions on OHV management from law enforcement officials and people on both sides of the OHV issue, and we have researched what works in other states and countries. Now we’re asking you—as stakeholders—to work with us to complete recommendations that are fair, workable and make sense.

We anticipate not more than three meetings to refine a workable document to present to the DCR Stewardship Council. If the Stewardship Council accepts the recommendations, we will offer to work with DCR to implement the citizen participation elements of the plan.

To keep the discussion manageable we will be selecting representatives of all views. If you are able to come to a meeting on the date below please let us know. We will advise you if you are selected to participate. For those not included in the actual meeting we will continue to keep you abreast of the discussion and welcome any suggestions you send.

OHV Recommendations Committee Meeting
Saturday, March 27, 10 - 2 p.m.
Richard Sugden Library Community Room
8 Pleasant Street
Spencer, MA

Please apply by sending a statement of interest to


Draft Agenda – subject to participant input
Welcome, clarification of purpose, rules of engagement
Roundtable introductions and a statement of personal interest in the OHV issue
Information sharing - informal presentations are encouraged, limit 10 - 15 min. each. (Please sign up in advance. Tell us what technical support is needed)
Identify areas of agreement, disagreement and areas needing more work
Assign work to complete OHV management recommendations
Plan next meeting
General Topics
· Evaluation of enforcement tools and how they can used effectively
· Better communication between state agencies and the public
· Public engagement programs, such as Park Watch
· Support for the Citizens Advisory Committee in the legislative bill
· Increased public education and communication regarding the current laws
· Citizen cooperation on the development of an OHV handbook "

Find more information on the Friends Network OHV Initiative here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A New Vision For Forests? You Decide.

Whether you are an environmentalist or a logger, you need to know how the Forest Futures Visioning Process (FFVP) Recommendations will affect public forests in Massachusetts.

The FFVP Technical Steering Committee (TSC) will complete recommendations for forest management soon, but you can submit comments until Monday, February 22 to

We suggest comparing the TSC recommendations to the Wildlands and Woodlands Vision, created by Harvard Forest scientists.

To learn more, click here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Powerful new tool for concerned citizens

A few days ago, I was out skiing on a golf course near my home, when an amazing sight caught my eye--coke machines, all lit up. There were two of them out there, lonely and deserted, but still ready for action. It's the second year I've noticed the machines turned on during the winter. As we struggle to grapple with global warming, such waste boggles the mind.

I wondered who I could report this problem to, but quickly became discouraged as I imagined working my way through robot telephone menus, then finally speaking with a bored employee who thought I was nuts.

Then I read about a new tool to resolve this and similar problems:

"See Click Fix" is "a local advocacy Web site that lets users write about issues to encourage communication between residents and local government. SeeClickFix users post a complaint about problems that occur within a set of boundaries on a Google Map, like graffiti at a bus stop or potholes on a busy street, and the site communicates the problem to the appropriate government agency and marks the problem on the map.

Users can comment on the issue or label it resolved. Government agencies can post on the site to respond to residents, and journalists can use the site to communicate with readers and see which issues are most pressing to people.

Ben Berkowitz, the chief executive of SeeClickFix, said the tool went beyond government: 'Anyone can be held accountable: a business, nonprofit, even a private citizen.'" Read more.

Fixing environmental problems

While the above example mentions problems like potholes in streets, we can use the site for environmental problems like the following:
  • Waste--parking lots that keep lights on all day
  • Identifying good spots for public rain gardens
  • Erosion in parks
  • Construction sites not complying with erosion laws
  • Chemical leaks and spills
  • Places where litter accumulates
  • Illegal dumping
Here's an example of how citizens in New Haven fought the reckless use of ATVs on city streets.

It's a great new tool for citizens---it has enormous potential--but if no one picks up the tool, no work gets done.

So sign up on, and start solving problems in your neighborhood!

How top start using "SeeClickFix"

You do not need an account on SeeClickFix--but you can easily start one if you already have a Facebook account.  The site does have Pro accounts for businesses that require a fee, but citizens do not have to pay a membership fee.
  1. Citizens start here.
  2. Under "citizens get started," type in your city, neighborhood, or zip.   Experiment with the map or lists of neighborhoods till you find the area you want to work within.  I'd recommend your city, since the site is new.
  3. Check out to see what problems your neighbors have reported.  But probably there won't be any, since SeeClickFix is new.
  4. Next, report your first problem.  Click on the tab "report an issue."
  5. Indicate where your issue is.  You can type in an address, or you can use the map to drag the symbol over the right location.  Use the arrows to move the map till it covers your area.  When done, click "go to step 2."
  6. State the problem.  First enter something short and clear in the "summary" blank.  This will be the name of your problem, so make it short, clear, and descriptive.  If more details are needed, you can add them in the space below. 
  7. Next, it's highly recommended to add a photo.
  8. Add you e-mail address in the blank.  It will not be shared with the public.
  9. When you are done entering, click on "report your issue."
  10. Now, wait for a bit while your photo and report are uploaded. Next, you will see some suggestions above for what to do next. For example, you can email your report to your facebook friends, or you can even print a ready-made flier to slip under your neighbor's door.
Next, make some attempts to solve the issue yourself, and post what you are doing on the comments below the posting of your problem.  You need to set an example that this system works, and that problems get fixed. 

Think of SeeClickFix as a public bulletin board where problems are aired and people work together to solve them.