85-acre Six Ponds Great Woods Project

Great Woods aerial by Steve Furlong

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Click here to read the editorial by The Cape Cod Chronicle and here to read a history of Hawksnest.

85-acre Six Ponds Great Woods Project is a Rare Opportunity

Recognizing that the time to act is now before the last great natural places are lost to development, the nonprofit Harwich Conservation Trust (HCT) has launched a $3 million land-saving campaign to purchase 85 acres in the Six Ponds Special District. The pine-oak forest is bordered on the north by Route 6 and is the largest undeveloped tract remaining on the Lower Cape, according to Mark Robinson, Executive Director of The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, Inc.  If not preserved, the land will be converted into a 19-lot subdivision.

Red-tailed hawk by Janet DiMattia

“The pandemic has produced intense interest in grabbing a piece of Cape Cod, causing real estate prices to soar and development pressures to accelerate. We are losing our large natural lands needed for drinking water protection, habitat for wildlife, and places for people to walk in the woods. I hope people will rally behind HCT’s ambitious goal to save the Great Woods in the Six Ponds District,” said Robinson. 

For over a year, HCT had been in discussions with the landowners Peter A. Copelas, Heather Copelas, and her husband Wayne Darragh. The land is located at the end of Spruce Road which parallels Route 6 between exits 82 and 85 (formerly exits 10 and 11). Now the pressure is on for HCT to raise the funds by December 31st.

“As seasonal Cape Cod residents for over three generations, our family shares the concerns of many regarding overdevelopment and the importance of ongoing conservation efforts.  We are happy that the Harwich Conservation Trust is leading the effort to preserve in perpetuity this important tract of undeveloped land,” said Peter Copelas.

To give Harwich voters a chance at contributing to the land-saving effort, the Town of Harwich Real Estate & Open Space Committee submitted a $950,000 Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding request to the Select Board and Community Preservation Committee. Both boards voted unanimously in favor, so the $950,000 CPA funding request advanced to Town Meeting on May 2nd. CPA funds are derived from a 3% surcharge on property tax.  Voter directed use of CPA funds for open space, recreation, housing, and historic preservation doesn’t compete with other town budget needs like schools, roadway maintenance, emergency response or other services.

The Town Finance Committee, Conservation Commission, Youth & Recreation Commission, Bikeways Committee, and Board of Water/Wastewater Commissioners also supported the project.

Town Meeting voters unanimously approved the $950,000 CPA funding contribution, which left $2,050,000 for HCT to raise. Then two foundations pledged $500,000 each. HCT donors contributed at all levels to raise another $550,000. As of August 10th, there is $500,000 left to raise toward the $3 million goal. We have until December 31st.

Conservation Significance:

The 85-acre Six Ponds Great Woods Project is environmentally significant because:

  • The land is located within the watershed recharge area to Cornelius (aka Eldridge) Pond and Walkers Pond, two of the six ponds within the Six Ponds Special District. According to the Town of Harwich Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan, both of these ponds are suffering from impaired water quality. Therefore, preserving the 85 acres will help protect the ponds.
  • The land is located within the watershed of the Herring River. According to the Town of Harwich Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan, the Herring River is suffering from impaired water quality.
  • The land is contiguous with 56 acres of town-owned conservation land, which in turn, is contiguous with approx. 240 acres of state-owned land including Hawksnest State Park. Contiguous to this assemblage are additional town and HCT-owned lands. If the 85 acres is preserved, then an approx. 400-acre contiguous area would result that connects the half dozen ponds for which the Six Ponds Special District is named.
  • The land offers an opportunity to create an east-west walking trail experience as part of the 400-acre area including town conservation lands and Hawksnest State Park. There could also be a future opportunity to connect to the HCT trailhead at Cornelius Pond Woodlands on Queen Anne Road.

    Pine-oak woodland by Gerry Beetham

    Pine-oak woodland by Gerry Beetham

  • The southerly portion of the land is within a Zone 2 Wellhead Recharge Area for the Public Drinking Water Supply.
  • The land includes state-designated BioMap 2 Core Habitat defined as “critical for the long-term persistence of rare species and other Species of Conservation Concern, as well as a wide diversity of natural communities and intact ecosystems across the Commonwealth,” which is also state-designated Priority Habitats of Rare Species defined as “the geographical extent of habitat for all state-listed rare species, both plants and animals, and is codified under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA).”
  • The land is situated within the Six Ponds Special District, which was designated as an environmentally sensitive region two decades ago by both the Town and Barnstable County including goals to: “protect the water quality of Aunt Edies, Cornelius, Walkers, Black, Olivers, and Hawksnest Ponds; to protect the District’s key natural resources including rare plant and wildlife habitat, wetlands and coastal plain pondshores, unfragmented forested areas, fisheries, and wildlife corridors; to maintain the scenic character of area roads and views of pondshores and woodlands.”

“I’m 100% for this project. It’s so important to preserve this open space and network of trails forever,” said Mike MacAskill, Chair of the Town Select Board.

“Saving the land will help protect ponds, wildlife habitats, and a new walking trail experience. Town Meeting voters turned out strongly in favor of a Town contribution. Let’s be bold, let’s raise the funds to buy this land, and let’s make a local, lasting difference,” said Michael Lach, HCT Executive Director. “Projects like these are made possible through partnerships, including with the landowner. The Copelas family could have developed the land or sold to the highest bidder. They recognized that this is a chance for the community to keep the Great Woods forever wild,” said Lach.

“This is a big challenge, but one we cannot pass up. It’s the largest acreage that HCT has ever tried to save. There is so much at stake here from woodlands and water quality to habitat and footpaths. We can reach the $3 million goal with everyone pitching in,” said Tom Evans, President of Harwich Conservation Trust.

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