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.