It's the time of year to get out and enjoy the natural world. We're fortunate here on Cape Cod that a significant amount of unspoiled open space has been preserved. Many of these conservation parcels, both privately and publicly owned, have walking and hiking trails that are open to the public. We asked a few local conservationists and outdoors enthusiasts to tell us their favorites.
It is not so easy to say I have a favorite foot trail, because each trail throughout the seasons has so much more to offer than is quickly perceived, but with that said, I choose the D. Isabel Smith Monomoy River Conservation Area off Bay Road, East Harwich as a significant, precious trail. It is a place where natural landscape and public water supply recharge holds the memory of ancient belonging. From the times of Tisquantum (Squanto) and William Bradford feasting on “venison and good victuals” at Askaonkton (the wading place) in 1622 to Captain Jeethro’s farm of 1698 to the homesteading of his granddaughter Hosey Stephen, the great great granddaughter of Sagamore Mattaquason himself. Walk lightly on the land and be sure to look about. You’ll be amazed at what you see.
12th generation Cape Codder, trail guide
One of my favorites is the Pah Wah Point walking trail off Namequoit Road in South Orleans for many reasons. First, back in 1987 I helped clear the trail when the town of Orleans acquired this open space parcel. That was also the first time I learned, in fact, you can get poison ivy simply by pulling up their root system. Pah Wah Point trail provides limited parking and is an easy hike but the best part for me is, any time of the year, at the end of the trail to the left of the picnic table area is a small path that leads right out to the beach. I love walking along this part of Little Pleasant Bay all the way to Namequoit Point. Every walk I can see many ducks out on the water and sometimes osprey overhead but it's also good to look over at Sampson and Hog Islands and the barrier beach that keeps this stretch somewhat protected, for now, from the Atlantic Ocean.
Trying to name a favorite trail is sort of like trying to name your favorite pet or your favorite friend. They’re all different and they all have a special appeal that is unique to them. I grew up in Hyannis and many of my favorite trails are in the mid-Cape area. Year round I’d have to say the back trail at Sandy Neck remains a consistent love of mine. With dunes on one side and the wide open great marsh of Barnstable on the other, it is over six miles long with several sandy trails leading to the front beach through the dunes. One can feel alone and at peace out there in almost every season. There are deer, coyotes, foxes, spadefoot toads, diamondback terrapins and an ever-changing cast of birds. Both dune and marsh flowers bloom from spring through the fall and the colors of the marsh and sky are everchanging. I have walked many, many trails all over the Cape and more than a few are breathtakingly beautiful. My heart, though, belongs closer to home, at Sandy Neck.
Chronicle nature columnist
Can’t say that I have a favorite conservation property, but if I had to pick, I’d say Sylvan Gardens in Chatham. This is truly a special property, once cared for as a plant nursery for daffodils and other ornamentals by Rolf E. Sylvan circa 1960s. The town purchased the property in 2004 with land bank funds and through the effort of dozens of volunteers, town staff and the Friends of Sylvan Gardens, the public property is now open for business with Chatham’s first accessible path to accommodate all. Benches dot the main handicap accessible path, leading to the overlook for peekaboo views of White and Black Ponds. Informal paths take you under tall holly trees and rhododendrons for secret views. This is one of Chatham’s most tranquil walking trails (not a place to walk dogs or ride bikes as there are other places to do those activities). Sylvan Gardens is a lovely conservation sanctuary where one can enjoy a moment of peace and reflection. If you drive there, roadside parking on Old Main Street is limited.
Director of education and outreach for the Association to Preserve Cape Cod and Chronicle columnist
Bell’s Neck in Harwich is one of the most excellent places to hike on Cape Cod for many reasons, the most noteworthy being that its trails offer a balance between slightly challenging and easy. Whether you access them from points along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, from Bell’s Neck Road, or from the small parking area off Great Western Road, you won’t be disappointed. Bell’s Neck proper takes you by West Reservoir and the herring run, where in springtime you can see the fish making their way to their warm weather homes. In summer, the pond is placid and calm, and not a bad spot for a little fishing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding. If you’re into catching the crabs that make their homes in the silty mud at the bottom of Bell’s Neck/Herring River, head for the footbridge where you can drop a trap and in no time enjoy a successful catch. If you opt for the “other” Bell’s Neck trails that lead from the parking area on Great Western Road, you’ll find yourself wandering through piney woods before emerging into a cranberry bog that leads to Sand Pond. Whichever trail area you choose, bring a camera as there’s much to see and photograph, from stunning views to sea birds (snowy egrets, blue herons, osprey), as well as swans, ducks and geese. As this is a heavily wooded area, ticks are present so it’s best to wear protective clothing, ideally treated with tick repellent, but don’t let them stop you from enjoying this Cape gem.
Cape Cod Chronicle sports reporter
Walking outside is one of my favorite activities because it provides me with a sense of prospective and clarity. During my walks, I shut down my brain and focus on what is in front of me. As a biologist, my mind always gravitates towards the plants and animals in coastal environments. As I observe more along the coast, I wonder how organisms are able to survive and adapt to changing climates and conditions. I find myself wondering about the organisms in the tidal flats or how the shape of the salt marsh beds change over time. One of my favorite places are the trails in the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. The area is incredibly dynamic and I learn something new every time I walk the trails.
Chatham Conservation Agent
Of the many scenic places to explore on foot, one of my favorites that offers a diversity of habitats is Harwich Conservation Trust's Coy's Brook Woodlands. As you follow the trail down a gentle slope amidst tall pines and oaks, you start to see the deep green marsh beyond that buffers Coy's Brook, which is the major tributary to the Herring River. Walking past red maple wetland and across a short footbridge, witness the marsh views that stretch to the town's Bell's Neck Conservation Lands. The trail meanders by tupelos and a grove of beech trees. If you wish, take a short spur to pause in the shade of Atlantic white cedars reaching for the sky. In less than 45 minutes, you're back at the trailhead. You can find a trail map at www.harwichconservationtrust.org.
Harwich Conservation Trust Executive Director
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