Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Visiting the Striar Conservancy in Halifax




For more than 40 years, the Plymouth-based Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts has been steadily acquiring land, keeping it free from development. The organization oversees a wide range of properties, large and small, nearly 250 in total. These are distributed across a significant area of the South Shore and South Coast – from Marshfield to Plymouth, south to Wareham and Rochester, and west to Taunton and Brockton. Slowly but surely, I am checking them out.

This spring my son and I headed over to Halifax to tour the Striar Conservancy. At 164 acres, it’s a relatively large property, with few traces of human influence. A single trail leads through the woods and across small streams, offering views of the Winnetuxet River and its freshwater wetlands, as well as the occasional small pond. It’s a quiet, understated place – not much to look at for the casual observer, but pleasant and peaceful. I understand it’s a haven for birders -- home to as many as 90 different species, including woodcock, coopers hawk and ruffed grouse.


 Our plan was to meet up with my uncle, along with his two golden retrievers. We’d amble and chat, and let the dogs explore. (Dogs are welcome at most Wildlands Trust properties, as long as they are kept under control.) We were hoping we might catch a rare glimpse of the river otters, known to make appearances at the Striar Conservancy, but – for this visit anyway -- they remained elusive.

 
The Striar Conservancy is located on Thompson Street (Route 105) in Halifax, not far from Route 44. It’s in a beautiful part of town, tucked among meadows and farmhouses that harken back to an earlier time. Getting there is part of the adventure – leaving our strip mall-lined busy roadways, and entering a landscape that’s more rural and spacious.

Because there’s no published street address for the Striar Conservancy, you have to rely on your eyes to find it, and not your GPS. It’s not that difficult. If you’re approaching from Route 106 you take Thompson Street south for two miles and then look for a small parking area on the left. Or if you’re coming from Route 44, you take Route 105 north.

There is a wooden kiosk in the parking area, with a map of the property and additional information. The trailhead is right there. We spent a little more than an hour walking up the trail to the property’s boundary, and then back again. We probably could have done it in half the time, but instead we took frequent breaks so the dogs could wander off the trails and splash in the water.

The Wildlands Trusts opens its properties to visitors free of charge. By and large, they are open daily from dawn to dusk. In addition, there are a few simple rules – no hunting or trapping (except where posted); no fires, camping or litter; no cutting or removing of vegetation or other natural features; and no motorized vehicles or loud noises.

You can learn more about the Wildlands Trust via its website, www.wildlandstrust.org.

by Kezia Bacon
 May 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 www.nsrwa.org. To browse 19 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Biking Local Parks with Kids



 It’s a common dilemma among parents. You teach your child how to ride his bike, and soon the confines of the driveway or the neighborhood are too limiting. You’d like to go farther afield but the main roads are too busy or too narrow to attempt with a child. Where else can you go, to help your youngster develop cycling skills and confidence? One easy answer is Wompatuck State Park in Hingham (204 Union Street).

I have to admit, until recently I was only familiar with Wompatuck as a campground. I stayed there once, many years ago, but it was sunset when I arrived and I didn’t have a chance to explore. It turns out that the park has a lot more to offer than rustic overnight accommodations (262 campsites, more than half with electricity).

Managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Wompatuck State Park is comprised of 3526 acres. In addition to the campsites, there are numerous woodland trails for hiking, dog-walking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. For mountain bikers, the park is home to one of the longest section of switchbacked singletrack in the state. There’s also a reservoir for fishing and non-motorized boating, a small area for hunting (in season), and plenty of terrain for birders and other wildlife enthusiasts.

And most notably, for parents seeking a relatively safe place to bring the kids and their bikes, there are 12 miles of paved bicycling trails! My son and I joined friends at Wompatuck one afternoon during school vacation, and we managed to fill two hours, exploring. The trails are nice and wide -- some flat and some quite hilly. They mostly run through the woods, occasionally crossing old railroad tracks or passing by relics from the park’s earlier days as a military ammunition depot. There was plenty to see, and plenty to keep us occupied. There was even a well-placed porta-potty (always appreciated when children are involved).

Access to the bike trails is just inside the park entrance, on the left, across from the visitor center. There is a large parking area with a kiosk at the far end. I strongly recommend taking a map (you can also download one from the websites of both the DCR and The Friends of Wompatuck). There are quite a number of trails!

Another excellent option to consider is Pond Meadow Park on the Weymouth-Braintree line (470 Liberty Street, Braintree). Visible from Route 3, this 320-acre park features a large pond surrounded by a child-friendly paved biking trail two miles in length, as well as various opportunities for hiking and nature study.

Pond Meadow Park has an interesting history. Before it officially opened in 1976, it was privately-owned land containing a small pond and a large number of derelict cars . . . plus way too much garbage. A group of concerned citizens, along with state senators and representatives, worked together to gain title to the land, cleaned it up, and built a dam to control flooding in Weymouth Landing (downstream). Four years of work resulted in the creation of what is now a very popular nature preserve. The park contains a few miles of paved and wooded trails, a picnic area, and ample parking. It is staffed by two rangers and – hooray! – there are public restrooms.

Links:
Pond Meadow Park: http://pondmeadowpark.org/index.htm

by Kezia Bacon
April 2015