Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Daniel Webster Sanctuary at Night

Hay carts at Mass Audubon's Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield.

When I was a teenager, I got into trouble more than once for attempting to visit some of our local nature preserves at night. Most of them are only open from dawn until dusk, and if you park in their designated lots after sunset, you run the risk of getting ticketed or towed. Not to mention that you’re disobeying the rules!

But these places are so inviting! I know I’m not the only one who is curious about what our conservation properties are like after dark. Part of the reason the rules are in place is to prevent people from getting into mischief on public land. What’s a well-intentioned explorer to do?

Fortunately, some of the region’s earth-friendly organizations and other stewards of the land occasionally offer guided tours of conservation lands at night. The North and South Rivers Watershed Association hosts a moonlight hike (or paddling trip) every now and then. The South Shore Natural Science Center has its Owl Prowl and other evening programs. And Mass Audubon offers the occasional hike or hayride.

This September, my son and I and several of our family friends signed up together for Audubon’s “Summer’s Last Hurrah! Hayride,” which took place at Marshfield’s Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary. We met at dusk on a cool Saturday evening, and enjoyed snacks around a small bonfire while Audubon’s Education Coordinator Amy Quist shared myths and stories about the changing seasons. Then we all piled into a tractor-towed cart lined with loose hay and took a tour through the sanctuary.

Night had fallen by then, so we were there just as much to listen as to see. Occasionally Quist and her assistant would stop the cart and encourage us to pay attention to our surroundings. How many different sounds could we hear? What did we think they were? How was the sanctuary different at night?

Daniel Webster Sanctuary was once a farm. In fact, from 1832 until his death 20 years later, it was renowned statesman Daniel Webster’s farm! The property retained its agricultural purpose well into the 20th century. Since the 1980s Mass Audubon has managed it. It’s now a popular wildlife sanctuary, and exploration is permitted only on foot, so it was a treat to be literally carted around to see the various features at night. Webster’s orchard, the Green Harbor River, and Fox Hill each take on a different character after dark.

Quist also asked us to look up. When you get away from the lights of civilization – even just a little bit – the stars seem so much brighter. It was a clear night, so there was plenty to observe in the Autumn Equinox sky. Quist pointed our various constellations and fielded questions from adults and children alike.

Some of our crew liked the bonfire and stories (and homemade cookies) best. Others enjoyed the novelty of riding in the hay cart, and making “nests.” For me, the most memorable moment was when we stopped near the top of Fox Hill, and had a chance to look up at the night sky. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many stars!

Mass Audubon offers guided hayrides a few times a year. You can also arrange a private one, for birthday parties or other events. Visit the website for details on the organization, its properties, and the programs it offers throughout the year. Or call the South Shore Sanctuaries headquarters at 781-837-9400 to find out what’s happening next.

by Kezia Bacon
October 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Paddle the Green Harbor River

The Green Harbor River, as viewed from the dock at Peter Igo Park.
Until recently, those who wished to paddle a kayak, canoe or other non-motorized craft on the Green Harbor River had few appealing options for launch sites. They could pull to the side of Route 139 in Green Harbor and creep down the steep rocky embankment of the bridge at the Brant Rock Dike, or they could tramp hundreds of feet through overgrown brush and poison ivy . . . Other than that, there was nothing. But then things started happening at Peter Igo Park in Brant Rock, and now, not only is there reasonable access to the river, it’s slated for further improvement!

The changes are in large part the result of the work of the Peter Igo Park Initiative (PIP), a non-profit organization dedicated to rehabilitating a mostly-neglected Marshfield park. Since 2008, the PIP has been taking steps to transform the 17-acre park into a much more user-friendly space. They oversaw a major upgrade to the tennis and basketball courts on site, removed tons of refuse, thinned trees, cleared brush, and created a path through the woods and the marsh, right up to the river’s edge. There’s even a dock, with plans to install a much larger one, once permitting from the state is complete. This past summer, they even hired a team of goats to eradicate some of the poison ivy!

I’ve had a kayak for more than twenty years now, but somehow – for the past decade and more – I’ve let the cobwebs collect around it. When I dragged it out from its storage place last month, I found evidence of a critter nesting deep in its bow!

It was the end of September, the kids were back in school, and all the pieces had fallen into place for me to go out on the water. I had a friend with whom to paddle, and enough time in my schedule to make a day of it. Plus the weather was just-right. And so we transported our boats to Peter Igo Park, hauled them down the new path to the river, and headed upstream.

The Green Harbor River flows through my backyard. It took me years to figure this out. What I always thought was a pond was in fact a wide upstream section. The Green Harbor River rises from ponds and wetlands from near the Garrretson cranberry bogs, between Moraine Street (Route 3A) and Black Mount in Marshfield. From there it flows under Webster Street and through the aptly-named Green Harbor Golf Course before crossing into Mass Audubon’s Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary. Then it’s a slow, snaky passage to the sea, via the Brant Rock Dike and Green Harbor’s actual harbor.

In contrast to the more heavily trafficked North and South Rivers, the Green Harbor River is relatively quiet. Most of it is bordered, on one side if not two, by conservation land. Since the Brant Rock Dike impedes access from the harbor and the ocean, typically  there aren’t any motor boats on it either. It’s a lovely place to paddle, as it winds through salt marsh and red cedar swamp.

In late summer, the marsh grass grows very tall. You may not be able to tell from a distance, but it easily extends to ten feet in height. When you’re down on the water, seated in a kayak, it towers over you. It’s not terrain I’d choose to walk through, but as a backdrop to the river, I really enjoy the sense of enclosure that it creates. There’s something very peaceful about one’s view being limited to water, trees, sky, and tall golden grass.

That said, I’d also like to paddle the Green Harbor River in the spring, when the marsh grass is just beginning to come in. That way, I’d be better able to see what borders it.

Access to the Green Harbor River is free and open to the public. Parking is available at Peter Igo Park, as well as across the street at the DAV, where a few spots are reserved for paddlers. Take Route 139 through Green Harbor toward Brant Rock, go past the Marina and the Yacht Club, and then after you’ve crossed the bridge, turn left onto Marshall Street. Large signs make it difficult to miss. The recently-mulched path to the water is to the left of the tennis courts. It’s not exactly a short haul to the river – but it’s direct, and it’s worth it. On the relatively calm day that I visited this fall, it took a little over an hour to paddle up to the first wooden bridge in Daniel Webster Sanctuary, but only half that (with the wind at our backs) to return.

Also of note is a privately-owned island, in the middle of the river, right across from the launch. Wooden signs posted there indicate that visitors are welcome, as long as they treat the property with respect. It’s well worth the exploration!

For more information about about the Peter Igo Park Initiative, visit

by Kezia Bacon
September 2015

Kezia Bacon's articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit To browse 19 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit