Many of us take for granted that the Town of Plymouth is endowed with an array of natural resources that other towns can only dream about – 35 miles of picturesque coastline, as many as 450 sparkling ponds, restored herring runs, globally rare pine barrens, an underground aquifer with billions of gallons of fresh water, and an incredible diversity of plants and wildlife.

Ellisville salt marsh is one of the really special places in town. This 70-acre natural gem is situated closer to Cape Cod than it is to downtown and is the sole place in all of Plymouth designated as both an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and a Massachusetts Important Bird Area (IBA). There are only a handful of such places statewide.

This incredible, natural property was rescued from development in the 1980s when the state stepped in to purchase the northern half of the salt marsh and its uplands from a bankrupt company that had planned to build a densely packed residential development. That property became Ellisville Harbor State Park. The southern half of the salt marsh was generously gifted to the Wildlands Trust by several local families for permanent protection in 2003 and became Shifting Lots Preserve. As a result of these two actions, the entirety of Ellisville marsh and its barrier beach are open to everyone, at no cost, 365 days a year.

Some 240 species of birds have been found here, along with 150 species of plants, some of which have evocative names like seaside cinquefoil and sea beach sandwort. There are right whales and humpbacks (occasionally). Gray seals can be seen basking on the rocks near shore at low tide. And in a typical day an estimated 200 million gallons of water flow in and out of the salt marsh inlet as the tides cycle.  The People of the First Light, ancestors of the Wampanoag, came here 13,000 years ago, 8,000 years before the pyramids were built in Egypt.

The Friends of Ellisville Marsh have since 2007 worked tirelessly in partnership with the Wildlands Trust to maintain tidal flows in and out of the salt marsh, and to protect wildlife in ways that seek to minimize the impact on the public’s ability to enjoy the wonders of nature in a peaceful setting. But we are by no means alone. Dozens of other organizations and volunteer committees exist throughout Plymouth, many older than the Friends, whose sole purpose is to preserve natural places we can go to for rejuvenation, peace and solitude.

They include, in no particular order, the Herring Ponds Watershed Association, Wildlands Trust, Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, Living Observatory, Manomet, Mass Audubon, Network of Open Space Friends, Open Space Committee, Community Preservation Committee, Savery Pond Conservancy, Six Ponds Improvement Association, Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance, Sustainable Plymouth, Save Our Bay, Rescue Plymouth Wildlife, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and the list goes on. The town’s Department of Energy and Environment plays a mighty role in supporting these groups’ efforts and providing needed expertise. For a town our size, we punch above our weight class when it comes to environmental awareness and action.

So if you are looking for a way to express yourself this Earth Week, check out one of these organizations near you. The world needs concerted, local action as much as it needs global change. Plymouth is a great place to start.

Eric Cody

Cody is co-founder and president of the Friends of Ellisville Marsh Inc., and author of Rescuing Ellisville Marsh: the Long Fight to Restore Lost Connections.

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