HCT Celebrates Volunteers & Walk Leaders at 35th Annual Meeting

Thanks to the enduring support of conservation minded HCT members, there was much to celebrate at HCT’s 35th Annual Meeting on Aug. 7th. More than 200 people gathered at Wequassett, which generously hosted the event. 

During the gathering, the Trust highlighted ambitious land preservation projects. The largest was the $3 million 80-acre success in 2022 called the Six Ponds Great Woods Project in which HCT partnered with the Town and State to save the largest forested tract left on the Lower Cape with watershed acreage for three ponds. An ongoing goal is HCT’s focus on preserving land to protect water quality. In 2022, additional watershed properties were protected on White Pond and Robbins Pond as well as in the Herring River estuary.

HCT President Tom Evans offers remarks.

“As you know, the real estate market keeps going up, which makes it more challenging for us to keep saving the special places that you love to visit with family and friends. Your philanthropy is needed now more than ever as we compete for the last of the developable land left on the Cape with a significant amount still in Harwich,” said Tom Evans, President of the HCT Board of Trustees.

In search of land-saving support in 2023, HCT executive director Michael Lach also presented three current capital campaigns spread across town, each with a deadline of December 31st. Leading the Bell’s Neck Road-Herring River Project, HCT hopes to raise $325,000 to save 2.87 acres with 780 feet of scenic frontage on Bell’s Neck Road and another 1,180 feet of salt marsh shoreline. The $375,000 North Woods & Water Project aims to preserve 10.29 acres located within a public water supply well recharge area serving a year round population of over 13,000 and seasonal population of approximately 40,000.

HCT’s boldest effort this year is the $4.25 million Red River Valley Preserve Project. “We hope folks will rally behind the Red River Valley project to help save critical watershed land upstream of Red River Beach,” said Michael.

The 12.34 acres is comprised of two properties that bracket Route 28 at the Harwich town line with Chatham. HCT sees the forested properties as a scenic gateway that should be forever protected on both sides of the busy road. If not protected, Lach pointed out that the land could be converted into a subdivision sending nutrients into Red River and Nantucket Sound.

Walk leader Peter Trull smiles for the camera

Since the land bordering Rt. 28 is also in the CH-1 zoning district, warehouse storage and other permitted uses are possible that could impact the scenic entryway to Harwich. The two parcels are also the missing links in a significant north-south wildlife habitat corridor spanning 475 acres of adjacent conservation land in both Harwich and Chatham.

The southern of the two parcels contains an existing 2,144 sq. ft. house that HCT hopes to renovate into a new office and learning center. HCT envisions a new walking trail as well.

Volunteer managed wildlife trail cameras revealed the wild neighbors that inhabit the varied habitats of the Red River Valley. White tailed deer peered inquisitively into the lens while flying squirrel and a lone turkey made an appearance. To audience delight, a rascally bunch of coyote pups frolicked about. To watch the footage, please click here

Michael Lach and Andrea Higgins share a moment.

HCT’s Director of Land Stewardship Connor O’Brien recognized the many volunteers who dedicate time and talent to a range of projects that benefit the community. HCT volunteers are building benches, tending trails, monitoring 100 songbird nestboxes, counting herring, helping in the office, photographing events, cleaning up litter during Tour de Trash, and engaging in many other meaningful activities.

The Board of Trustees selected HCT walk leaders as the 2023 Conservationists of the Year for their outstanding support of land preservation through public education about the great outdoors during more than 250 walks each year. HCT’s many guided walk topics include birding, mindfulness, lichens, local history, horseshoe crabs, coastal ecology, mushrooms, botany, astronomy, and more. Walk leaders honored were Andrea Higgins, Peter Trull, Tom Walker, Mark McGrath, Rich Eldred, Pat Sarantis, Don Wilding, Gil Newton, Todd Kelley, Marcus Hendricks, Wes Price, Michael Payne, Gerry & Karen Beetham, and the late Don Schall.

Preschool Explorer Frankie Wiacek gives Miss Andrea a thank you bouquet.

To connect with more young families, HCT walk leader Andrea Higgins has been offering Preschool Explorer walks for ages 2-5 plus their caregivers. It was a special moment when 2-1/2 year old Frankie Wiacek delivered a thank you bouquet to “Miss Andrea” as the Preschool Explorers call her.

Walk participant Vicki Goldsmith provided a testimonial of her experience with leader Peter Trull, saying “I have evolved from being solely focused on the identification of the different bird species we encounter, to opening my eyes to observe all that I can about behaviors, cycles, seasons, and other features of nature – whether underfoot, in the sky, or caught by my peripheral vision. With time and guidance and now-daily practice, the natural world continues to become a more familiar and friendlier-feeling place – and that brings me a great deal of joy.”

The 35th Annual Meeting was hosted by Wequassett which was fitting given that HCT is one of three inaugural beneficiaries of the five-star resort’s brand new campaign called the Community Impact Initiative to support education, conservation, and workforce vibrancy. The Initiative allows Wequassett guests to contribute 1% of their nightly rate towards the Cape Cod community, and 100% collected will be passed directly to local organizations that create positive local change. HCT along with Lighthouse Charter School and WE CAN were selected by the Wequassett management team as the 2023 awardees.

It’s the enduring support of you and fellow HCT members that make possible ambitious land-saving projects and innovative eco-restoration initiatives as well as diverse guided walks each year. We’re grateful for your partnership to protect land and water for both wildlife and people. Let’s keep striving together to make a lasting, local difference on this special corner of the Cape.

To see a map and photos of the Red River Valley Preserve Project, please click here.