NEW Land Project: Hinckleys Pond/Herring River Headwaters

If you’re inspired by the evolving Town/HCT Hinckleys Pond/Herring River Headwaters Preservation Project described below, please Donate here.

Harwich voters, please click here to see the text of Town Meeting Article #33 that will support this project.
We invite your “YES” vote on Article #33 at the May 8th (10 a.m.) Town Meeting to be held outside at the Monomoy Regional High School stadium (75 Oak St.).

We welcome your support of the Hinckleys Pond/Herring River Headwaters Preservation Project that will result in protecting scenic vistas from the bike trail, water quality, walking trails, and wildlife habitat.

It’s rare to find a land-saving project that could create a ready-to-go walking trail destination and protect scenic views from the bike trail while also protecting the health of a pond and the Herring River. This approximately 31-acre combination of a retired cranberry bog and upland opposite the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School is very visible at the corner of Pleasant Lake Avenue (Rt. 124) and Headwaters Drive. Folks park at the Cape Cod Rail Trail parking area on Headwaters Drive to bicycle, walk, jog, and enjoy the bike path bordering the 31-acre property.

Bird's eye view of the Hinckleys Pond/Herring River Headwaters

Bird’s eye view of the Hinckleys Pond/Herring River Headwaters Project. Aerial photo by Gerry Beetham.

As with many large acreage land preservation projects, success is only possible through partnerships. With your support of Harwich Conservation Trust (HCT), we’ll continue to work with town committees, state agencies, and the community to find enough funding for a preservation outcome. Voters at the upcoming May 8th Town Meeting will play a critical role when they have the opportunity to vote “YES” on Article #33 sponsored by the Town Real Estate & Open Space Committee. If Article #33 is approved, then the Town can contribute $360,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) open space funds toward the project.

CPA revenue is derived from a 3% assessment on all properties in Harwich and the CPA funds can be used for open space acquisition, affordable housing, historic preservation and recreation based on Community Preservation Committee recommendation and Town Meeting voter approval. Use of CPA funds does not take away from or compete with funding for other vital town needs like schools, fire & safety, highway maintenance, or other town services.

Fred and Barbara Jenkins who own the property have agreed to sell it for $732,500. The total land acquisition project budget is $800,000 when including expenses for due diligence, legal review, conveyancing, and land stewardship steps including an ecological restoration feasibility study to determine how best to naturalize the retired bog.

A “YES” vote on Article 33 results in Town purchase of Lot G1 in support of the overall effort by HCT to protect all parcels outlined in red.

If Town Meeting voters approve Article #33, then an anonymous HCT donor has pledged $220,000 in challenge funds to encourage HCT to raise the remaining funds needed for the total $800,000 project goal.

The acquisition will be completed over a two-year installment approach. Public parking access is anticipated on Headwaters Drive from the existing bike trail parking and/or an additional parking area east of the bike trail.

Cranberry Farming Changes

Some folks are dismayed that farming ended with the last harvest in 2020. Since the 1990s, bog owners in Massachusetts have increasingly experienced economic hardship because of a surplus of cranberries from other parts of the country and beyond the U.S. driving down market prices. Here’s a brief history of cranberry farming, the reasons why local growers are struggling against larger market forces, and why purchase for land/water protection and ecological restoration are helpful.

The cranberry is a native berry that still grows wild in damp dune swales of the Outer Cape and Sandy Neck. Early settlers to the region cleared naturally-occurring wooded red maple wetlands and Atlantic white cedar wetlands and converted those areas into commercial cranberry bogs from the late 1800s to early 1900s while diverting water from streams and ponds to support the agricultural operations. When growers could fetch a decent price for their harvest, farming could be a lucrative endeavor.

Over the past few decades, much larger cranberry bogs have been created in Canada and parts of the Midwest like Wisconsin. This surge of industrial-scale cranberry farming has created a surplus of berries in the market. The backlog of berries and other economic factors have created an unpredictable and downward trending financial value for local growers who are at a competitive disadvantage compared to agribusiness domestically and internationally.

Local Growers Face Financial Challenges

Financial challenges include a lack of available labor to manage bogs as well as climate change resulting in drought and warmer average winter temperatures that prevent sufficient flood-freezing to sand bogs. Periodic sanding is necessary to maintain cranberry vine health and productivity. The Jenkins bogs have not been able to be sanded for this climate change reason in several years and even if a long enough freeze occurred, the cost to sand at this point is estimated at $50,000. Even before the added cost of sanding, growers can barely break even.

Expenses related to irrigation, fuel, fertilizer, and other agriculture needs to be coupled with decreasing cranberry prices mean that growers can no longer depend on a sustainable profit and are looking at other options for their land. These options include selling bog properties including developable upland capable of subdivision on the open real estate market or to towns and local nonprofit land trusts for conservation purposes. For example, the upland along Headwaters Drive could be a subdivision or saved to protect views and water quality.

The financial pressures on local growers are immense and many are forced by declining income to exit the market. With local growers often having been in the business for decades and for the Jenkins, in particular, being fifth-generation cranberry farmers in West Barnstable, it can be a very difficult emotional decision to stop farming. In the end, the economic pressures give growers no choice but to consider alternatives.

Eco-Restoration Future

Mr. Jenkins and his father James purchased the Harwich bogs in 1997 and farmed the land together. The Jenkins’ decision to gracefully complete their last season of farming in 2020 and sell their land in 2021 for conservation purposes provides an opportunity to create a new chapter for this highly visible and ecologically important 30-acre property in the watershed of Hinckleys Pond and Herring River. Among the aspirations can be a chance to include the next generation of students in understanding the technical aspects and community benefits as well as the skills involved with ecological restoration projects.

While shepherding the land acquisition process, HCT is also researching the cost for ecological restoration to enhance habitat diversity, water quality, and the walking trail experience. An eco-restoration feasibility study is expected to be completed this spring. Learn more about eco-restoration benefits.

Bufflehead Ducks

Bufflehead ducks on the wing by Sarah E. Devlin.

How does this project benefit the community?

This property stands out as an important conservation and passive recreation (walking trail) acquisition for the following reasons:

  • The property is adjacent to a Zone 2 Wellhead Protection Area for public water supply. See the letter of support from the Town of Harwich Board of Water/Wastewater Commissioners.
  • The property contains approx. 31 acres, which is substantial acreage that can provide a new walking trail destination with scenic views for residents and visitors.
  • The land borders both sides of the 25-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail; each side buffering more than 1,000 feet of the scenic regional bike path that spans from Yarmouth to Wellfleet. This bike path section in Harwich offers panoramic scenic views of the property and Hinckleys Pond.
  • river herring swim upstream

    River herring swim upstream by Gerry Beetham

    The property is almost entirely within the watershed to Hinckleys Pond, the primary surface water source for the Herring River. River herring spawn in Hinckleys Pond and also transit Hinckleys Pond through herring runs to additional spawning ponds of Long Pond and Seymours Pond. If the land is developed, then at least six houses would occupy the site, which would negatively impact the scenic views as well as add six septic systems to the Hinckleys Pond/Herring River watershed.

  • Preserving the property will help reduce septic system nutrient loading in the Herring River watershed, which is included in Phase 8 for sewering in the Town of Harwich Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan. Preserving the property will result in less sewer infrastructure, which also saves taxpayer money.
  • The property includes 233 feet of pond shore that connects to another approx. 600 feet of Town-owned pond shore within 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).”
  • People walking along Cape Cod Rail Trail

    Folks walk along the Cape Cod Rail Trail that travels through the Jenkins’ property. Photo by Gerry Beetham

    The property includes extensive public road frontage including approx. 1,200 feet on Pleasant Lake Avenue (Route 124) and approx. 1,500 feet of frontage on Headwaters Drive with both roadways offering motorists and travelers scenic views of the property.

  • The property is adjacent to approx. 6.5 acres of Town-owned land under the jurisdiction of the Selectmen and shares a common border of approx. 844 feet.
  • The property is directly opposite the new state-of-the-art $120 million Cape Cod Regional Technical High School. With the simple addition of a crosswalk between the school and the land to allow students and faculty pedestrian access, this unique proximity to a regionally important educational center could offer “outdoor classroom” learning opportunities for students either from Cape Tech or nearby Monomoy Regional High School.
  • Because of the property’s overall relatively flat topography with slight slopes and wide trails, a future aspiration could include creating a wheelchair-accessible trail loop compatible with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.
  • As mentioned below, this acquisition is consistent with the Town of Harwich Open Space and Recreation planning goals, including protecting Landscape Character, Water Resources, Wetlands, Fisheries and Wildlife, and Scenic Resources.
  • This acquisition is also responsive to the results of the 2015 Community Survey, which was part of the 2017 Town Open Space & Recreation Plan drafting process. A vast majority of survey respondents replied that it is “very important” for the Town to continue to acquire and preserve open space and natural areas. See specific planning goals met with this project, please click here.

How Can You Help?

Donate to Support this Land-Saving Project:
If you’re inspired by the Hinckleys Pond/Herring River Headwaters Preservation Project, please donate by clicking here.

Harwich Voters Save the Date and Vote “YES” on Article #33:
Saturday, May 8th (10 a.m.) Town Meeting to be held outside in the stadium of Monomoy Regional High School at 75 Oak Street (rain date: May 15th)

If you’re a registered Harwich voter, please vote “YES” on Article #33 that can authorize the Town to contribute $360,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) open space funds toward the purchase of Lot G1 as part of the larger effort to protect the water quality of Hinckleys Pond and Herring River as well as a walking trail and scenic views from the bike path. CPA funds are a dedicated source of funds that don’t compete with funding for other important town budget items like schools, road work, fire and safety, or other town services. We hope you’ll join in support of this important project to protect land, water, wildlife, scenic views, and a new walking trail.