Published on December 8, 2020

Sanctuary Opening Delayed, But the Work Continues

A group of volunteers clearing debris from the beach at Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary following the removal of the boathouse.

A group of volunteers clearing debris from the beach
at Great Neck following the removal of the boathouse.

This past year has come with a lot of challenges. Nevertheless, exciting initiatives have taken place at Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary while a portion of the property has remained temporarily closed.

The expanded portion of Great Neck was originally set to open in 2020. Due to COVID-related delays, the grand opening of the former Sacred Hearts property has been pushed back to 2021. This will ensure the safety of our staff and community as we work on installing new interpretive signage, preparing the trails, and making our infrastructure safe for visitors.

In the meantime, the rest of the sanctuary is still open to the public! Visitors are welcome to explore the rest of Great Neck's 4-mile network of trails, which can be accessed by our Stockton Shortcut parking lot. Spend some time outdoors and enjoy the Old Pasture Loop, which will bring you through a pine forest and along old stone walls, and our Heron Point Loop, which leads to the Osprey Overlook, offering a view of the Cape Cod Canal and salt marsh habitat.

Improvements for People & Wildlife

Throughout the past year, the Mass Audubon staff and volunteers have been working hard to restore and enhance wildlife habitat at Great Neck and make necessary modifications that will allow visitors to explore the sanctuary safely.

In spring 2020, five of the seven buildings that once stood on the land were removed. In their place, native grasses, wildflowers, and over 120 shrubs and trees were planted to support local bird and pollinator populations. Our volunteers have been on site in small groups, assisting property staff with maintaining the sanctuary grounds, improving trail systems, and helping with additional preparations for the full opening.

This fall, our education staff was able to run a public birding program at Great Neck. Participants were quite happy to see Belted Kingfishers, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Cedar Waxwings, Common Loons, Buffleheads, Common Eiders, and a whole lot more! In October, property staff and volunteers went through a chainsaw certification program which has enhanced the capacity of our maintenance efforts at Great Neck.

Great Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in early fall © Jesse Ferreira
Great Neck © Jesse Ferreira

Enhancing Climate Resiliency

Along with prepping the former Sacred Hearts property for opening, we've also been preparing Great Neck to endure the future effects of climate change.

In partnership with Mass Audubon's Conservation Science department, our Shaping Climate Resilient Communities program, and several other local conservation organizations* both Allens Pond and Great Neck were awarded a watershed grant from the EPA's Southeast New England Program (SNEP).

The SNEP funding will be used to make these two South East sanctuaries more robust and adaptable in the face of climate change while also improving our understanding of how rising ocean waters and more frequent storms impact saltmarshes. These vital transition ecosystems serve as flood control, nursery habitat for fish, critical stopover locations for migratory birds, and are extremely efficient in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Sea level rise threatens to inundate saltmarshes and degrade them and their vital functions. Mass Audubon is working to mitigate this threat by helping these ecosystems "migrate" inland. To facilitate this movement, we're removing obstacles that would impede the establishment of saltmarsh vegetation—including an old squash court—as well as improving coastal upland habitat through native plantings and removal of invasive species.

More to Come

We'll be looking for volunteers to help with our native planting efforts at Great Neck in the spring. It will be a great opportunity to take part in this important climate change adaptation work!

Our sincere gratitude to all of you for the patience and support you've shown us throughout the last year. We look forward to continuing our conservation efforts at Great Neck to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife.

*Save The Bay, Town of Wareham, Wareham Land Trust, Dartmouth Natural Resource Trust