Monday, February 8, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 19: Harwich, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 19: Harwich, Mass.
February 6, 2010

            Cape Cod is known for many things, beaches, historic villages, and quaint shops among them.  However, just as much as those, Cape Cod is known for its cranberry bogs, some of which supply Ocean Spray with their fruit.  In fact the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association represents nearly half of all of the growers in North America.  Of all the towns on the Cape, Harwich may be the cranberry bog capital.  There is even an annual Cranberry Harvest Festival held in Harwich during September.
            Though some of these cranberry bogs are private there are some that can be walked.  The best place to go for an up close and personal tour of a working cranberry bog is the Cape Farm & Cranberry Company(left) located on Main Street in Harwich.  The bog is toured via a large motorized cart through the spring, summer, and fall.  Besides the bog itself there are farm animals that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.  Reservations are needed but all group sizes can be accommodated including buses and school field trips.  The Harwich Historical Society at Brooks Academy has a large exhibit on the cranberry culture of Cape Cod.
            Harwich has much to offer besides cranberry bogs.  One such example is the Bells Neck Conservation Area.  At more than 250-acres of natural beauty, Bells Neck is filled with walking trails, ponds, and an amazing marsh(right) area that includes a view of an immense blue water tower hovering above the tree line.  Entering from Great Western Road you will see the large West Reservoir on the right side.  It is nearly always populated by swans and ducks during the warmer months.  The main dirt road if taken will lead you eventually to Route 28 but there is one side road and it needs to be taken.  This dirt road takes you to the marsh area at Bells Neck and there is a walking bridge that gives you an amazing view.  The scope of the conservation area is in full view from this spot.  The muddy area along the marsh river is filled with tiny marsh Fiddler crabs that scurry away as you approach.  The trails are great for walking but the Cape Cod Rail Trail slices through the conservation area as it makes its way from Dennis up to Provincetown.
            Not to be forgotten in the town of Harwich is the beautiful coastline.  Perhaps the best spot to enjoy the nautical portion of the town is at Wychmere Harbor(right).  Located on Rt. 28 there is a spectacular view of the harbor at a small dirt turn off.  It is along a busy road so be careful when pulling off, but the view is worth it and there are benches for sitting there as well.  
            Just to the east of Wychmere Harbor, located next to the hugely popular Brax Landing restaurant, is Saquatucket Harbor(left).  Saquatucket is the Native American word which loosely translated means ‘Stony Brook’ a name that is quite common in Brewster as that town was first considered part of Harwich.
From this harbor ferry boats leave for trips to Nantucket as well as out to Monomoy Island off of Chatham.  It is on Monomoy where groups of seals congregate and the ferries will take you out there to see them.
            As far as actual beaches go the best one for my money is Red River Beach, easily accessible from three different roads.  The Red River represents the border between Harwich and Chatham.  For hikers there is a marsh area behind the beach parking lot that leads to the Red River Swamp. 
            Another great long hike is at the Hawksnest State Park which is located off of Spruce Road near Exit 11 of the highway.  The large Hawksnest Pond and the smaller Olivers Pond are located within the boundaries of the park.  There is also the small 19th Century Head of the Bay Cemetery located in the northwest portion of the park.  Seth Whitfield Road runs north to south through the forest.  It is dirt and is somewhat tough to navigate.  It might be best to have an off-road capable vehicle to drive this road.  There is only one cabin located in the area and that is private.  It is here where the Hawksnest Camp, a duck hunting area, was founded in 1925.  A small group called Friends of Hawks Nest has begun work on getting funding to help clean up the park which is basically under no control.
            Originally incorporated in 1694 Harwich has over 300 years of history that can be seen, smelled, and even tasted.  Whether you like beaches and boats, hiking through the forest, or cranberry bogs and farm animals, Harwich’s rich natural beauty and history will be sure to capture your imagination and heart.  Have fun and happy traveling!
DirectionsCape Farm Cranberry Bog: From Rt. 28 in Harwich turn north onto Lothrop Ave.  Follow it to the end and turn left onto Main Street.  The bog is on the right about 300 feet away.
Wychmere Harbor: The overlook area is located between Snow Inn Rd. and Harbor Rd.
Red River Beach: The beach can be accessed by either Deep Hole Rd. or Uncle Venies Rd.
Bells Neck Conservation Area: From Rt. 28 turn north onto Depot Rd., and take a slight right onto Bells Neck Rd.
                    Harwich Historical Society
                    Wychmere Harbor Beach and Tennis Club
                    Cape Farm Cranberry Bog Tours

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