1.37-acre White Pond Project

Let’s make a land-saving difference together!
To donate in support of the White Pond Project, please click here.

Rallying to Protect Woods and Wildflowers of White Pond

The woods perched above White Pond ramble toward the water’s edge punctuated by sweet pepper bush and other shrubs offering a palette of greens that paint the shoreline from early spring through autumn. Even in winter, tall pitch pines offer clusters of canopy the color of jade amidst the dormant deciduous oaks. For a few weeks in the summer, but only along certain ponds where the habitat is just right, a splash of pink-purple blossoms sway in the breeze when rare Plymouth gentian wildflowers bloom.

Ponds at Risk from Too Much Development

White Pond in northwest Harwich right on the border with Dennis is a place where woods and wetland run along the water’s edge offering a variety of wildlife and plants their preferred alchemy of moisture, sun, and soil. Harwich Conservation Trust (HCT) has been focused intently on protecting the health of our local ponds and their adjoining habitats by preserving land within pond watersheds. Time is of the essence to save pond shore properties, since the water quality of these blue jewels is increasingly tarnished by nutrient loading from septic systems, lawns, and road run off.

In 2002, HCT launched its Priority Ponds Project to focus on preserving key parcels on ponds and within watersheds that could help protect pond health and wildlife habitat. HCT has made great strides by protecting 149 acres with about 9,700 feet of shoreline across a dozen different ponds. 

Recognizing the water quality issues of many Harwich ponds caused in part by phosphate laden septic system effluent, the Town has also been focusing on ways to protect these sensitive surface water resources.

“The Town of Harwich has been working diligently to develop a program to address wastewater management needs, protect drinking water sources, protect freshwater ponds, and restore valuable saltwater estuaries. Protection and restoration of these valuable water resources is extremely important to maintain the quality of life and economic well being of the Town,” states the Town’s executive summary of the voter approved Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan.

New ‘Gold Coast’ of the Cape

“Our freshwater ponds have become the 21st Century ‘gold coast’ of Cape Cod, with the value of building lots approaching those that used to be reserved for saltwater-front homesites,” said Mark Robinson, long-time director of The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, Inc., a regional land trust service center that provides technical assistance to more than 30 land trusts in southeastern Massachusetts. 

“Last year, we saw Brewster voters agree unanimously to pay $6 million for 55 acres on Long Pond.  It’s a credit to Harwich to still have several pond shores available for preservation, not all built out yet.  I hope the community will rally around Harwich Conservation Trust to make it happen,” said Robinson.

One of the roles that Mark Robinson plays in the land preservation equation is to be a “pre-acquisition” agent for land trusts that need extra time to raise land purchase funds. With its revolving land protection fund, The Compact can buy and hold a property for a period of time, thereby meeting a seller’s closing timeframe while allowing a land trust the breathing room to apply for grants and complete a capital campaign to pay for the purchase.

In the case of the White Pond property, the 1.37-acre parcel with 300 feet of shoreline had been acquired at foreclosure by a bank and the land went up for auction this past summer. On a hot, humid mid-July morning, ten curious bidders gathered on the land by an abandoned house. Soon the bidding surpassed $400,000 and there were only two competitors left, Mark and a fellow on his cell phone relaying auction details to a business partner. In the end, after some adrenaline inducing back and forth prompts (going once…going twice…sold!) from the auctioneer, Mark secured the winning bid of $404,000. The Compact agreed to hold the land until December 31st so HCT could raise funds to offset the purchase as well as to remove the deteriorating structure that’s within the pond buffer and restore the site’s natural qualities.  

To Protect Ponds, Save Land

Combining land purchase with ecological restoration, HCT’s White Pond Project fundraising goal is $500,000 of which half has been contributed by a generous donor, so there’s $250,000 to go. To give the campaign a boost, HCT applied for a $175,000 Conservation Partnership grant from the State. In November, the State shared the great news that the grant was approved! This means we only have $75,000 left to raise.

“If folks can donate to help HCT succeed with the White Pond Project, then together we’ll save a critical 1.37-acre property with 300 feet of shoreline. When we finish the fundraising effort, the town-wide Priority Ponds Project will surpass 150 protected acres with more than 10,000 feet of shoreline across 13 ponds, and that’s something everyone can be proud of,” said Michael Lach, HCT executive director.

White Pond is on the small side at 12 acres, but is a deep (20 feet deep) cold water pond that has generally good water quality, owing to the lack of dense development upgradient primarily because of 450 acres protected to the north in Dennis and Brewster. Preserving the southerly 1.37-acre property in Harwich would help reinforce pond health, especially by protecting 300 feet of shoreline. Plymouth gentian (Sabatia kennedyana) is documented by the State as a rare wildflower that grows along White Pond, so this vulnerable species would also benefit.

HCT is juggling multiple pond-focused projects. The Robbins Pond Project seeks to raise $350,000 by year-end to save 3.3 acres with 660 feet of shoreline. Meanwhile, HCT is leading the 85-acre Great Woods Project in the Six Ponds Special District with a goal to raise $3 million, which if successful, would preserve the largest remaining forested tract left on the Lower Cape and help protect the health of Cornelius Pond, Aunt Edies Pond, and Walkers Pond.

To donate in support of the White Pond Project, please click here.