Story by Bill Galvin, The Cape Cod Chronicle
The Bell’s Neck ring was completed on Friday with a chainsaw-cutting ceremony which removed a wooden barrier along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, creating a passage way to the former Hall property and connecting the loop of public trails around the West Reservoir.
The Bell’s Neck Conservation Area is one of the town’s premiere nature preserves and encompasses a large stretch of the Herring River, which leads into the West Reservoir. The Harwich Conservation Trust has been especially interested in working with the town to protect the Hall parcel, which otherwise could have been a four-lot subdivision. The February acquisition of 4.1 acres was the final piece in the puzzle.
“This is the last undeveloped, unprotected land around the reservoir. It’s a keystone piece in the greater Bell’s Neck open space puzzle to protect wildlife habitat and water quality,” Harwich Conservation Trust Executive Director Michael Lach told The Chronicle in the days leading up to the town meeting vote to purchase the parcel in 2015.
Over the past few years, HCT and the town have been working to develop a ring of conservation land around the reservoir, river and herring ladder. Lach pointed out on Friday it’s been 50 years since the town made a major conservation commitment when purchasing a large tract of Bell’s Neck land.
In 2013 the town, working with HCT, purchased the 6.5-acre Verrochi property to the west side of the river adjacent to the herring ladder for $400,000. Lach, who said he had been working with the Hall family for 15 years to close the loop, creating the conservation land ring around the river, said on Friday, “I’m really honored and thrilled to be part of this partnership with the Hall family and the town of Harwich. This is a momentous occasion.”
In February of this year the town took ownership of the land. Town meeting in 2015 approved the use of $630,000 in Community Preservation Act funding for the open space acquisition. On Friday, about 30 people gathered to celebrate access to the land as part of a comprehensive trail system looping around the reservoir. The parcel includes 750 feet of shoreline along the reservoir.
Carolyn, Alan, Benjamin and Nicholas Hall were there when Eric Levy, superintendent of Nickerson State Park, which oversees the Cape Cod Rail Trail, cranked up a chainsaw along the edge of the trail and began cutting the barrier between the bike path and the former Hall property. Lach said he and members of the HCT had been working over the past few days preparing trails and defining boundaries between the conservation land and the 18 acres of adjacent Hall property.
Levy praised the multi-use role the bike trail plays in providing pedestrian access to the newly created entry point to the trails carved into the former Hall property, which connects those trails to the ring around the reservoir and provides new access to the herring ladder.
Alan Hall spoke to the decade of discussions with his grandfather Johnny and his father, Arthur Hall, concurring it was a long time in coming. “But here we are today,” Hall said. Lach also praised the Halls for providing rights of access along cart paths as an added gift.
Hall spoke of the role of cranberry growers in making this possible. The reservoir was a backup water source for the bogs. Hall cited the founder of Ocean Spray, Marcus L. Urann, who developed the screening plant along Depot Street in 1929. Hall said he has a plan to establish a cranberry museum along Depot Street.
Cape and Islands Senator Dan Wolf was on hand for the event. He spoke of his familiarity with the land, given his nearby residence, and his use of the trails around the reservoir with his three daughters. Wolf spoke of the possibilities for the future of the land, including improvements, staying the same or degrading. He praised the Halls for the decision to go with preservation.
Wolf urged walkers to respect the fencing put in place to separate this parcel from the remaining Hall property. He said he was out walking the parcel recently when he was approached by Benjamin Hall, Alan’s son, and told he had crossed over onto the Hall land and he was trespassing. Wolf quipped, “You realize I’m your state senator.” The discussion remained congenial, Wolf said.
“It’s not a ring until it’s complete,” Town Administrator Christopher Clark said of the importance of this purchase. He praised the efforts of Lach and HCT in working with the town on this and other open space purchases.
“Mike Lach has been a great partner in preserving land for generations to come,” Clark said. He also praised the Hall family for its passion for the community at large, pointing out once a parcel is developed you can never get it back.
Lach praised town meeting voters and the division of highways and maintenance for assisting in the creation of trails and the Cape Cod Five Charitable Foundation and Fields Pond Foundation for providing funds for planning, permitting and grounds improvements and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation for partnering in the bike trail connection to the land.