Chronicle Editorial Supports Six Ponds Great Woods Project

Editorial by The Cape Cod Chronicle
Another Opportunity Courtesy of HCT
Feb. 10, 2022

The tension between keeping land open and natural and using what little remains available to help ameliorate the regional housing crisis played out – and is still playing out – last year when Chatham officials tried to designate a portion of town-owned open space off Middle Road for housing. That request was defeated after open space advocates mounted a spirited defense of the plants and critters that call the area home, not to mention the residents who enjoy strolling through the woods.

What may be the largest undeveloped chunk of private land on the Lower Cape – 85 acres south of Route 6, off Spruce Road in Harwich – could be potentially converted into housing as well. It would not, however, help with the town or the region’s housing problems; because it is in the Six Ponds Special District, zoning only allows the creation of up to 18 lots. None would be affordable for local workers, even those who earn above the regional median income. Rather than see another neighborhood of overbuilt summer homes, especially in this environmentally sensitive area, it makes sense to keep the land in its natural state as open space.

The Harwich Conservation Trust (HCT) this week announced a deal to do just that.

The ever-vigilant HCT has been talking to the Copelas family, which owns the 85-acre Six Ponds tract, for more than a year, and now has a signed agreement to buy the land for $3 million and preserve it in its current state forever. Last week the town’s community preservation committee and real estate and open space committee recommended that May’s annual town meeting approve $950,000 in Community Preservation Act proceeds toward the purchase, leaving $2,050,000 to be raised by Dec. 31.

That’s a hefty ask, but this may be one of the most significant campaigns the land trust has conducted – and it’s done quite a lot in the past several years. What’s being called the “Six Ponds Great Woods Project” deserves protection for any number of reasons. It’s completely within the Six Ponds Special District designated by the town and Barnstable County 20 years ago to protect the water quality of six area ponds and the natural resources, including rare plant and wildlife habitat, wetlands, coastal plain, forest, shores and wildlife corridors of the surrounding area.

The southern portion of the land is within the recharge area for public drinking water wells and the Herring River watershed. It is within the recharge area for three of the six ponds, which are suffering from impaired water quality. And perhaps most amazing, it would connect 56 acres of town-owned conservation land, the 240-acre Hawksnest State Park, and additional town- and HCT-owned lands, creating approximately 400 contiguous acres connecting all of the ponds in the Six Ponds District. There may never be an opportunity again to link such a significant amount of open space here or anywhere else on the Lower Cape to benefit the wider community.

Raising more than $2 million won’t be easy. We encourage voters in May to support the town’s contribution, and hope that state and federal grants can whittle down the total. HCT has gone to the well numerous times in recent years, but if any of its projects deserve support, it’s this one. Losing this area to upscale housing would diminish the whole point of living or owning a home here.