A large body of freshwater was discovered last week in the heart of downtown Orleans. Town officials confirmed the find yesterday. “I don’t know how we could have missed it all these years,” one was heard to say. ‘”It was ‘hiding in plain sight,’” explained a bystander. Major efforts are now underway to capitalize on its untapped potential.
The news item is of course totally fictitious, but the reality is not. Located in the heart of downtown Orleans, Boland Pond is one of the Town’s best-kept secrets. In recent months, however, it has begun to shed some of its anonymity. This article revisits the pond’s early days, examines its current health, and describes what its future may hold.
Bordered by Route 6A, Brewster Cross Road, several school buildings and neighborhood streets, Boland Pond is one of the Cape’s many kettle ponds, shallow saucer-like indentations in the landscape left by the receding glaciers at the end of the Ice Age. Ancient artifacts found around the pond have led people like local archeologist Fred Dunford to conclude that the cliffs along the banks were used by the Nauset Indians for shelter in winters well before the arrival of British settlers.
Longtime Orleans residents like Cecil Newcomb, who moved to the area from Wellfleet at age 4 and has lived for decades in a house on Route 28 facing the Middle School, remember the pond fondly as a favorite haunt where neighborhood youth caught large-mouth bass, perch, and pickerel and sneaked the occasional cigarette. The pond hosted numerous species of turtles and a bird population that included heron, Canada geese, and ducks. Other townspeople have fond memories of skating on the pond, particularly at night when it was illuminated by lights. For a time, the pond had an ice house and supported an ice operation.
In the 1950s, the pond and surrounding area were owned by Richard C. Nickerson and his wife Audrey. Their land extended from what is now Snow Library on the east to Route 6A on the west and included not only the pond but also the land surrounding it. Audrey remembers the construction of Ellis (now Friends) Market using dirt excavated from the site that became the post office. The sand turned the existing peat bog into what has now become Friends parking lot. Audrey’s family donated or sold portions of the land to the town, which used it for two schools and the fire station.
Boland Pond takes its name from James Boland (insert dates), who operated a blacksmith shop on the southeast corner of Brewster Cross Road and Route 6A. Boland’s house, which included a tavern, was built in about 1750. In the 19th century, the area was the hub of Orleans, a short walk from the railroad station and close to the hotel constructed on the site of today’s Mobil Station. Pictured in the accompanying photograph, Boland, a second [?] generation immigrant from Ireland, had the distinction of serving as Barnstable County’s first sheriff. He was also active in town government. He and his wife are buried in the Orleans cemetery.
The health of the pond:
While the pond’s official size has remained at 4.7 acres for as long as anyone can remember, the encroaching vegetation has expanded and thickened over the years, rendering large portions of the shoreline inaccessible. Some residents believe that the pond may have lost as much as half of its original surface over time.
The process of change at Boland and similar ponds is described by Carolyn Kennedy, a [biologist] who chairs the town’s Marine and Fresh Water Quality Task Force. “When it rains or snows,” she says, “drainage from nearby roads and parking lots pours into the pond through one of seven concrete pipes. The runoff carries with it sand, silt, oils from cars, and other chemicals from the roadways and surrounding yards.”
“As sand accumulates at the edge of the pond,” she continues, “the water becomes shallower with each batch of precipitation. Aquatic plants that do well in shallow water become established on these sandbars, with shrubs not far behind. The runoff also brings with it phosphorus compounds that serve as fertilizers for aquatic plants. Even the smallest single-celled algae plants utilize this fertilizer to increase their populations. This can lead to an algae bloom which turns the water brown or green. “Boland Pond, like many ponds in Town,” she concludes, “is losing its water quality with each passing year as a result of human activity in its watershed.” The pond currently has more than three times the phosphorus levels of healthy ponds.
Kennedy points out that remedial actions are needed both by the town and individual property owners. The town has one study underway to identify and address the sources degrading the quality of the pond’s water. Individual property owners can help Boland and other ponds by eliminating lawn fertilizer, creating buffer zones of native plants, and reducing runoff heading for the ponds. Establishing compost piles away from pond edges, she helps ensure that as leaves and branches rot, nutrients will not drain into the pond just as fertilizer does.
Boland Pond currently has some 66 abutters. Chief among them is the town itself, whose land houses the two schools and playing fields and the fire station. Other abutters include commercial enterprises, social service providers, and a number of well-hidden private residences and condominiums. The result is an array of parties — governmental and private, commercial and residential, year-round and seasonal — with interests in the pond. The state is also involved: it owns the island that has formed within the pond and is responsible for Route 6A and its run-off.
At a meeting last August convened by the Orleans Pond Coalition, this multiplicity of stakeholders was very much in evidence. One outgrowth of discussion at the meeting was a decision to create an advisory committee to establish priorities and facilitate communication. While the number of elements involved in some aspect of the pond’s rehabilitation increases the challenge of coordination, the plethora of players contributes a sense of urgency. “Already homeowners, businesses, organizations, and residents are beginning to see,” says Sandy Bayne, who chairs the Orleans Pond Committee’s Pond Protection Committee, “how each can support a healthier future for Boland Pond and its surroundings.” As long as there is good coordination, says one person, “the more groups involved, the merrier.”
Some changes are already under way and others on the drawing boards. The town’s Conservation Commission is considering a request from the Orleans Conservation Trust to lay out and then cut a network of trails. Collaborating with Orleans Tree Warden Dan Connolly, OCT will harness the efforts of an expanded group of Americorps members and local volunteers during Green Week (April 13-17). Plans for transforming a dense patch of invasive species into an outdoor classroom area, giving the environmental science curriculum a more hands-on quality, enjoy the active support of the schools’ principals and teachers.
OCT, itself an abutter, owns three acres of land on the Route 6A side of the pond, including xx feet of shoreline. The piece is a small pocket park, complete with a place to park and a welcoming bench that offers one of the rare public views of the pond. The parcel was in part a gift in 2011 of Orleans business woman Lida Miner and in part purchased using funds raised by OCT from the public. Miner, who purchased the property from the Boland estate in 1995, originally planned to sell it at the going rate, responded instead to an appeal by the 200 Coalition to preserve 200 acres of open space by the year 2000 as a gift to the town. The property is now one of the lynchpins of the Boland Pond undertaking itself.
People who have known the pond the longest are among the most enthusiastic supporters of this and other changes. Orleans resident Bonnie Snow, who moved from Chatham in 1959, senses the potential of the Boland Pond effort. “If they can create something,” she says, “it would be wonderful. What a great way to educate kids about saving our natural resources!”
“Any pond that you can bring back to life is a good thing,” concludes Cecil Newcomb. “I’m so happy that something is being done,” says Lida Miner, whose present-day conference room sits where the old tavern used to be. “The pond is too special to let the pfragmites and bittersweet have the last word.”