Take a Hike: Osprey Marsh

There is a new Sippican Lands Trust property acquisition in Marion that just opened up to the public on Saturday, July 26 at 11:00 am. Naturally, I was there at 10:55 am so I could be one of the first to stamp the muddy trail with the imprints from the treads of my boots and report straight back to you.

This is the new Osprey Marsh – and there is no false advertising here. There are ospreys everywhere. Osprey Marsh is adjacent to Howland Marsh, and the two contiguous lots combined equal 28.7 acres of protected upland woods, wetlands, and marshland all the way up to the waters of Planting Island Cove.

Howland Marsh is named after its benefactors, the Howland family, and the family back in February gifted the Osprey Marsh land to the Town of Marion, under the care of the SLT.

Upon turning into the freshly wood-chipped off-street parking area of the property, the first thing I noticed was SLT Executive Director Robin Shields, seated next to a Sippican Lands Trust banner and a few didactic boards about the property leaning on the ground. There was still a great big blue party tent set back farther from the entrance from the night before when the SLT and members of the Howland family and their friends gathered for a private party to celebrate the opening of Osprey Marsh to the public.

Shields eagerly welcomed me to the property and gave me a brief history of the sequence of events that led to that morning of the Osprey Marsh opening to the public. Mary Howland Smoyer and her three siblings inherited the land from their grandparents, Edward and Eleanor Howland, who left specific details instructing the family to eventually donate the land to the Town for the benefit of all who live in it and to preserve the natural setting for recreational and educational use.

“[Smoyer] and her siblings decided to donate the land earlier this year,” said Shields. “She was very specific. She wanted it to be open to the public.”

Shields said the SLT has even bigger plans for the property than just this preliminary trail. The idea is to eventually build a system of raised wooden boardwalks throughout the property and also link Osprey Marsh with Howland Marsh with handicap-accessible trails so everyone can enjoy the land. The SLT’s main objectives for the property are environmental education, outreach events, and land protection.

“It hasn’t even been six months, and to see how far we’ve come,” said Shields, looking around at the parking area and the trailhead leading into the woods – beckoning me to follow it and discover a place that I’d never been to before.

The trail is marked by an Osprey Marsh sign every 50 feet or so. The freshly laid wood chips are soft under the foot, and also serve as a protective layer between the hiker and some stubborn sprigs of poison ivy striving for survival.

The woods are lush, almost tropical-like on this humid, sun-drenched day. The green-hue of the mature ferns of the forest floor appear greener than usual in the moist morning air, making the woods feel almost garden-like while the thick vines hanging from the trees maintain the wild untamed atmosphere of the woods.

The SLT has laid down some simple lumber planks they call bog bridges, so hikers can pass over the wet muddy spots along the way.

About two-thirds through the gently winding trail, I bumped into SLT Head Steward Yelena Sheynin, who was just on her way back from inspecting the trail and the marsh one last time for any last-minute details she could tend to before the public came through that morning.

Smiling, Sheynin said, “I think the trail turned out really well, thanks to the volunteers.” But, she added, the goals that the SLT has for this property are even more exciting than this preliminary trail.

“From the minute that we went to the ConCom (Conservation Commission) to this day, we’ve been out here working on it,” said Sheynin.

The view from the end of the trail that opens up to the cove is magnificent. Rarely is the average person granted everyday access to actually explore a marsh, so this is an excellent place to bring children to discover an ecosystem like a marsh firsthand.

The reeds were arranged in swirls of yellow and green, flat from the ebb and flow of the tides, and they collapsed softly beneath my careful footfalls. Ospreys circled in the sky, and I even found an osprey feather lying delicately atop the flattened grassy marsh floor. A bright green flag placed near the trail marks the way back out for those that explore farther along the shoreline, and that day the breeze had it flapping completely open, waving me back toward the woods.

One last osprey bid me farewell before I pulled out of the parking area in my car. Something tells me I will be returning often to enjoy the solitude of the marsh and to watch as the passing seasons leave their mark on the woods at Osprey Marsh.

The SLT will be conducting its August fund drive very soon, and information about donations and SLT membership can be found at www.sippicanlandtrust.org.

By Jean Perry

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