BY BRUCE TRABAN

Afternoon Stroll at Howland Reserve

On February 13, it was my pleasure to be able to lead a walk talking about the History of Hixville, the Howland Reserve property, and dive into the values within ecosystem services.

Our walk started in the center of the Hixville Village Historic District, where in the 1780’s Daniel Hix established the aptly named First Church of Hixville (referred to then as Hix’s Meetinghouse) to seek relief from religious persecution. The church still stands today, however it is not the original. The building that sits at the intersection of Old Fall River Road and North Hixville Road is in its third iteration, with the most recent being constructed in 1853. This area was once bustling with activity, acting as a halfway point for stagecoaches moving between New Bedford and Fall River.

Crossing the road from the Church’s property over to Howland Reserve, we had to mind for any cars that passed but no one was worried about runaway stagecoaches in this day and age. As we made our way down the trail head, I shifted the focus to the history of the reserve. Howland Reserve was donated to DNRT in 1975 by John Howland in memory of his parents. The property had been in the family for a number of years and had existing trails that had run throughout it. The trails we were walking on were the same trails that existed back then, with the exception of a few meandering paths. It was John Howland’s request with the donation of the property to maintain the existing trails and DNRT still honors that request and generous gift of land.

The property itself is predominantly covered by towering Eastern White Pine trees with a very sparse shrub layer, aside from pine regeneration and beech trees in some stands. This property is unique in the fact that it exhibits multiple age classes and forest successional stages. There are areas where there is very little in the shrub layer while other areas have shade tolerant beech trees growing under the pines or pine regeneration waiting for the next windfall to come and open up the canopy. Following the trail will lead you to a bend opening up to the Copicut River. It was here we took a moment to enjoy the beautiful overlook as I explained that the river feeds into Cornell Pond to the south, an old mill pond. Before turning around, I lead the group to the northern portion of the reserve which happens to be part of a gas easement. While this area may not seem attractive to us as people, it is providing different habitat to the area, shrubland and grassland patches, which attracts a more diverse species composition when paired with the forested landscape.

Nearing the end of our walk, I stopped near the trailhead to ask the group if they knew what ecosystem services are and what kind of values they provide. I went on to describe that the values nature provides us fall into four broad categories: Supporting, Provisioning, Cultural, and Regulating. Examples for each would include pollination in the supporting category, foraging for wild foods and timber in provisioning, and the use of nature as a spiritual outlet or for recreation would fall under the cultural category. For the last category, regulating, I tried to draw a parallel between a former waste reclamation site to the north to the services green spaces can provide. The land itself is capable of waste decomposition overtime, as well as cleaning our air and water, and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into the mass of the landscape, either in the living vegetation, the dead trees, and even in the soil following decomposition. I wanted to get the point across that there is value, often not thought of, to natural spaces that can be lost to development.

There are many other benefits to natural landscapes that I did not mention. I encourage those reading to discover them for themselves and to share that information with others. You may be surprised by how long the list really is and hopefully will think about “undeveloped” land differently in the future!