HCT Gets Major Donations For Herring River Land Purchase

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Conservation

Harwich Conservation Trust Executive Director Michael Lach walks the edge of a cranberry bog on property owned by the trust, which is raising money to finalize the purchase of an additional 6.65 acres in the Sand Pond Woodlands. PHOTO BY GERRY BEETHAM

HARWICH — Fundraising to preserve open space always takes a winding trail of commitments from the community. Perhaps no group has walked that trail more than the Harwich Conservation Trust, which is looking for more of those commitments to purchase a 6.65-acre parcel that will complete a 70-acre conservation puzzle along the Herring River corridor.

HCT Executive Director Michael Lach said the path to the purchase was made much easier with donations from two anonymous families. But the trust still needs to raise $225,000 by the end of December to connect conservation land and walking trails to preserve the woodlands, already approved for a seven-lot subdivision.

Lach said the planning board approved the seven-lot subdivision for owner Martin Rich last fall. At one point the town and the trust were looking at a joint purchase, with the town using a portion of the land along Deacon’s Folly Road in North Harwich for affordable housing, but that initiative was sidelined.

Given the threat of development of the parcel in the Sand Pond Woodlands area, the trust came together with the Cape Cod Compact of Conservation Trusts, which purchased the property to provide time for HCT to raise the $1,225,000 to acquire the land. The trust has until Dec. 31 to raise the funds.

Two major anonymous donors came forward, according to Lach. One family has committed $650,000 over a five-year period and another has committed $350,000 over two years. The trust will apply for a state Conservation Partnership grant to help bridge the gap. Lach said those grants can be up to $85,000.

Last week Lach went before the conservation commission seeking a letter of support for the grant. He was also looking for assurances the commission would be willing to hold a conservation restriction on the parcel, which is a condition of the grant. The commission approved the letter of support unanimously, praising the trust's initiative.

In the past 20 years several purchases and a bequest by the town and the trust have helped preserve a number of walking trails on the north side of Great Western Road from the west side of the Herring River to Sand Pond. The town has 50 acres of conservation land along the Herring River corridor. In 2001, the trust received a 2.63-acre bequest along Main Street in North Harwich and purchased six acres on the north side of Sand Pond, including 775 feet of shoreline; in 2007 the trust acquired 4.5 acres just west of the pond; and in 2014 the trust acquired 11.34 acres between Main Street and Great Western Road, which included an active cranberry bog. The 6.65-acre parcel HCT is seeking to purchase abuts the bog.

Just south of Great Western Road along the Herring River corridor, the town has 200 acres in the Bell’s Neck Conservation Area. Lach pointed out the Herring River watershed and the river are nitrogen impaired and reducing developed property and eliminating new septic systems is integral to improving conditions and will help to reduce the cost of sewering the area.

“Residents have the opportunity to finish a large conservation puzzle and help protect the water quality of Sand Pond, West Reservoir and Herring River,” Lach said. “To permanently preserve the Sand Pond Woodlands, we hope the community will help us raise the final $225,000 of the $1,225,000 goal. Because of the pandemic and stay-at-home circumstances, there are a lot more people exploring the outdoors, so saving this land with its scenic views along walking trails resonates even more these days.”

Donations can be made at harwichconservationtrust.org.