Donating Land in the Red River Valley

Stars Align to Connect Two Friends that Preserve Land Together

Gifts of land to Harwich Conservation Trust (HCT) preserve precious natural habitats for the benefit of wildlife and people alike.

When individuals choose to donate property, there is a tangible feeling of hope for the future.

For a pair of neighbors just upstream of Red River Beach, the decision to purchase and donate a parcel of land adjacent to both of their Harwich properties not only saved a vital area of wooded habitat from development, but also united two friends from days gone by. A shared desire to save one special corner of natural beauty has preserved the integrity of a forested slope perched above the perennial stream that flows to Nantucket Sound.

A Love of Harwich Spanning Generations

When Dr. John Leong, professor and Chair of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine, and his wife Dr. Charis Cladouhos, a psychiatrist, purchased their Harwich home, they were delighted to have a piece of the town to call their own. Charis had vacationed in Harwich since early childhood with her parents, who first rented a spot near Bank Street Beach during the summers before eventually purchasing property in Harwich Port and building a home. John and Charis loved spending time there as graduate students.

“It had a beautiful ocean view, and we would walk to the beach,” John recalled. “My wife has wonderful memories of her childhood in Harwich, back in the days of Bonatt’s Bakery. We would treat the house like our own. And like all students, we would show up in the summer with three bags of laundry.”

Eventually Charis’s parents sold their Harwich property, choosing to rent instead for their summertime getaways. Over the years, John and Charis joined them, renting as well. About seven years ago, they decided it was time to invest in a Harwich home.

Small World, Big Dreams

Just a few days into owning their new home, a neighboring couple came by to bid John and Charis a warm welcome to the area. “We showed them in, they were very friendly, and they introduced themselves as Paul and Jane,” John remembered. “I thought, I recognize this guy. It turns out he was living in my freshman dorm at Brown when he was a sophomore. We knew each other from the ages of 18 or 19. So we immediately hit it off.”

Paul Ayoub, partner and chair of Nutter, McClennen & Fish law firm and a commercial real estate attorney in the Boston and Hyannis offices, remembers the moment he and his wife Jane (also an attorney) brought a housewarming gift to their new neighbors and realized the connection from back in the day. “We had not seen each other for decades, but we reconnected immediately,” Paul recalled. “When the property between our two homes was placed on the market, we thought it would be great to preserve it.”

The neighbors realized that if the parcel between them was sold, it would likely be developed, eliminating a valuable area of habitat for wildlife and changing the natural setting, which was one of the reasons why each couple was drawn to the area in the first place. As an attorney in the world of real estate, Paul was in a unique position to understand all of the steps required in order to purchase and preserve the property.

Stars Align to Protect Watershed Land

John said the joint land purchase wasn’t necessarily something that would have occurred to them as a possibility. However, when the stars aligned and the property went on the market, they realized they could put something into place to protect the land in perpetuity. He expressed gratitude for his friend and neighbor’s expertise.

“Paul is a very accomplished lawyer, and he has done all the legal work of the purchase and donation, which is right up his alley,” John said. “In a joint purchase of land, you have to feel comfortable with the person and have a level of trust. It was fortuitous that we knew each other from college. We knew we could purchase it together, and since neither of us wanted to do anything significant to change it, why not give it to the Harwich Conservation Trust? We knew they would be good stewards of the land. In that way we would be doing what we can to protect the habitat of the Cape. It’s right on the Red River, and it’s habitat for a variety of species. It’s nice to feel like that will be carried on in perpetuity. After you sell the house, it will always be there. It’s something we can contribute to the environment of Harwich.”

Paul and Jane are proud and excited to know that the land will be protected and allowed to remain in its natural state forever.

“Since my college days, my family has rented a summer place in Harwich,” Paul said. “When Jane and I were married, we wanted to have a special place for our own family, here in Harwich, which is so familiar and special to us in so many ways. We found this beautiful place, and now, thanks to Harwich Conservation Trust, this little corner of the world can remain unchanged. That’s what land preservation and the Harwich Conservation Trust are all about.”

Paul added that after learning about land preservation and meeting with HCT Executive Director Michael Lach to share their land-saving vision, they became even more excited to be a part of HCT’s mission. “Michael and his team have been so special,” Paul said. “For those who are unfamiliar, they take the mystery out of land donation and make it as user-friendly as you can imagine. Jane and I think the town is very fortunate to have this team in place, as well as the members of the board. It made the experience even more rewarding to be able to work with such terrific people. I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to work with these great people for a really great purpose.”

Preserving More Land in the Red River Watershed

John & Charis and Paul & Jane’s gift of land in the fall of 2023 contributes to an ongoing journey of protection for the Red River watershed as the stream flows south from Route 28 to the Sound.

To help protect the Red River estuary, other forward-thinking families have gifted lands to HCT. See the map above showing land preservation in the Red River Valley.

In 2015, Barbara & Peter Sidel donated two salt marsh parcels totaling 2.7 acres. HCT in partnership with AmeriCorps placed an osprey nesting platform in the grassy marsh tucked behind the beach. In 2020, another 7 acres of salt marsh and bordering upland with tall oaks was donated by the Tuttle family to HCT.

In 2023, further upstream along Route 28 at the headwaters of the Red River, the community rallied behind HCT to raise funds for preserving a total of 12.34 acres comprised of 9.6 acres owned by the Chase family and 2.74 acres owned by the Baker family. The two tracts form the green gateway to Harwich for travelers driving in from Chatham along busy Route 28.

This new Red River Valley Preserve is where HCT plans to renovate an existing house into its new office and learning center. By preserving the land, HCT has helped to protect the Red River herring run, the water supply for Harwich and Chatham, and water quality for the town’s most popular beach (Red River Beach). The 12.34-acre acquisition was the missing link in a larger 475-acre wildlife habitat corridor of adjoining conservation and water department lands spanning both towns.

With enduring community support, HCT strives to save more watershed lands that shape our Cape Cod sense of place.

Story by Jennifer Sexton-Riley.

Photos by Janet DiMattia.