Pond and Creek Alterations Underway At Cold Brook

by William F. Galvin

HARWICH – The “re-wilding” of the Robert F. Smith Cold Brook Preserve is taking shape quickly. Two of the four proposed ponds have already been created, and efforts are now underway to restore the natural flow of Cold Brook through the preserve.

SumCo Eco Contracting of Peabody, which was the low bidder on the eco-restoration project, has been working since September on the easterly side of the 66-acre preserve, creating two of the four ponds proposed on the 49 acres that will be altered, according to Harwich Conservation Trust Executive Director Michael Lach.

The trust is the owner of the preserve, which has consisted of fallow cranberry bogs in recent years. It is partnering with the town of Harwich, the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The town provided $2 million as part of its comprehensive wastewater management plan to be used to establish conditions that would filter excessive nitrogen in the Saquatucket Harbor watershed. The ponds and marshlands that are being re-established are expected to reduce the flow of nitrogen through groundwater by 35 to 50 percent. Saquatucket Harbor is classified as a nitrogen impaired water body.

“Project results will also provide enhanced visitor access to the preserve’s scenic walking trails, continuing Harwich Conservation Trust’s tradition of connecting people of all ages to the natural world,” Lach said. “We will also be creating a wheelchair accessible trail loop.”

The two ponds that have been established are 30,000 square feet with a depth of eight feet and 21,000 square feet with a depth of 8.5 feet measured from the previous marsh surface. The two additional ponds planned for the property will be located on the west side of the preserve, said Lach.

The Cold Brook stream is also being relocated, according to Lach. The historical location of the channel was more to the east of where it has been in recent years, he said. A ground penetrating radar study indicating the depth of peat determined the historical location of the stream channel, he said.

The new channel, more to the east of the recent location, has been constructed to align with the results of the study, Lach said. The adjustment added about a quarter of a mile to the stream, he said.

It is hard to say exactly when the historical movement of the stream was altered, Lach said, but it was likely when commercial cranberry agriculture was established on the land. The natural stream movement was probably straightened to allow for the quicker flow of water in and out of the bogs, he said.

The trust has also partnered with the Harwich Fire Association, which is converting the town’s first fire station, adjacent to the preserve, into a museum and three affordable housing units. The trust is charged with reconfiguring the land to establish a scenic overlook and, in association with the fire station, create 28 parking spots, including four handicapped parking spaces. The parking is necessary to link the Cold Brook paths with the half-mile wheelchair accessible trail loop. Fundraising is ongoing for that project, added Lach.

The eco-restoration project, overseen by Inter-Fluve, Inc. of Cambridge, which designed and handled permitting, is on schedule, according to Lach. The trails and access to the preserve are expected to be closed until early next fall.