Harwich Conservation Trust Begins Cornelius Pond Campaign

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Conservation

The Harwich Conservation Trust is holding a fund-raising drive to protect 1,000 feet of shoreline on Cornelius Pond. COURTESY PHOTO GUS ROMANO

HARWICH — The Harwich Conservation Trust is embarking on a fund-raising campaign to protect Cornelius Pond, a “coastal plain pond” that is considered a rare habitat. The trust has an agreement to purchase a 15-acre parcel that includes 1,000 feet of shoreline on the pond.

“We're very excited about this project,” HCT Executive Director Michael Lach said. An anonymous donor has issued a challenge gift of $425,000 toward the $800,000 purchase price of the property, located in the Six Pond Special District between Queen Anne Road and Route 6.

“The coastal plain pond is a rare habitat site that can support rare plants and animals,” including the Plymouth Gentian, a very rare wildflower that requires a coastal plain shore, which can be found there, he said.

“It is exceedingly unusual to find that much shoreline for protection on Cape Cod, let alone Harwich,” Lach said. “It has a diverse habitat mix of upland forest, freshwater wetlands and meadow that provide scenic vistas as well as opportunities for wildlife to nest, find food and shelter. ”

Cornelius Pond is also locally known as Eldredge Pond. Lach said U.S. Geographical Survey maps name the water body Cornelius Pond. Research shows there was a Cornelius Eldredge born in 1814 and another born in 1838 who lived in that area.

He said the property was part of the Ovaska estate and was to be placed on the market for sale. It could be converted into seven or eight residential lots, and with the real estate market recovering and property values rising, larger acreage is being sought by developers who have shown interest in the property, he said.

The trust has to move fast because the owners wanted to close on this property in July, but HCT needed a longer time frame to raise the matching funds. The Compact of Cape Cod Conservation Trusts, for which Lach also works, stepped in as the pre-acquistion entity, agreeing to buy and hold the property while HCT raised the funds. He said the Compact will hold the property through Dec. 31, 2018.

He pointed out this is not the first time the Compact has helped out HCT. The Compact acquired the Marini property, 17-acres along Muddy Creek, while the trust worked out the finances. He said the Compact's assistance provides a window to raise the additional $425,000 to make the purchase. Lach said the sale price is $800,000 with an additional $50,000 being sought for project management costs.

HCT has been meeting with town boards and committees to work out an arrangement where the town commits funds for the acquisition and receives a permanent conservation restriction on the parcel, as happened with the Marini property. Lach has been talking with the real estate and open space committee, conservation commission and board of selectmen and the hope is to get the community preservation committee to provide Community Preservation Act funds to assist with the purchase.

“That model underscores the ongoing, productive partnership with the town to preserve watershed land,” Lach said.

A worn wooded cart path leading to the pond, and its solitude and scenic beauty define the character of the parcel. A two-minute video on the trust's website – harwichconservationtrust.org – provides a view of the property. Contributions can be made to the Harwich Conservation Trust, P.O. Box 101, South Harwich, MA 02661.