- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Despite its historic namesake, Myles Standish State Forest is less about North America’s early European settlers than about biological diversity, environmental change and modern-day recreation.

Standish, the military leader of the Pilgrims who arrived in Plymouth aboard the Mayflower in 1620, is honored in name only at southeastern Massachusetts’ largest public recreation area, a few miles inland from coastal Plymouth.

The nearly 15,000-acre forest has five camping areas, leased cabins and a 15-mile network of paved bicycle paths. Its highlight is one of the East Coast’s largest remaining examples of a unique ecosystem known as pitch pine-scrub oak.

Relatively short canopies of spindly trees cover shrub undergrowth that thrives here despite rocky, sandy soil and brisk coastal winds — characteristics also found on parts of New York’s Long Island and coastal Maine.

Visitors looking for beautiful fall foliage will find plenty of maple trees with bright red leaves. Those interested in history can wander under a canopy that in some areas closely resembles the tree stands in Standish’s time. Demand to log the forest has been limited by the low commercial value of its relatively small pines.

“Some areas were not heavily cut over, even in Colonial times,” says Jim Rassman, a regional forester for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages the forest.

A few areas were reseededwith nonnative pine species by Depression-era workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps. Those areas stand in contrast to most of the forest because of the uniformity of the trees’ size and species.

Myles Standish’s unusual mix of plants, insects and birds, such as fish-eating osprey, draw bird-watchers and other naturalists. The forest also features the Rocky Pond Cranberry Bog.

Amy Nelson, a 28-year-old Wrentham, Mass., resident who began visiting her family’s leased cabin at Myles Standish during childhood, frequents the forest’s bike paths. During the fall, she often visits the cranberry bog. A guided walk of the working bog offers visitors a chance to enjoy the scenery and wildlife and learn about growing cranberries.

“You usually see tracks of raccoon and deer around the bog,” says Miss Nelson, who coordinates natural and historic interpretive programs for the state at sites including Myles Standish.

“It’s not only a working cranberry bog, its a place for wildlife. In the fall, it’s neat to see the red berries growing on the vines and to see the harvest.”

The rocks are remnants of long-ago glaciers that scoured the landscape, leaving low pockets of ground that take two forms today at Myles Standish: the park’s 16 so-called “kettle” ponds and land depressions that host unique plant species and rare moths, butterflies and beetles.

The shores of the kettle ponds, most of them tightly hemmed in by trees, are extremely sensitive to trampling, and barriers and signs are posted to indicate sensitive areas. Water levels in the depressions fluctuate dramatically, nurturing unique plants.

The biodiversity found in the dry depressions is the result of unusual miniclimates created when cold air settles in low spots, leading to frost that can stick around as late as June. Leaves mature slowly in those areas, providing food for caterpillars at times of year when they otherwise would be unable to feed on more mature leaves from trees on higher ground.

“They’re some of the rarest species around,” Mr. Rassman says.

While visitors can easily find tranquillity, there’s plenty of room for livelier recreation at the five camping areas, cabins and pond beaches that draw swimmers and fishermen.

The forest also has 35 miles of equestrian trails and 13 miles of hiking trails. Ponds stocked with trout draw fishermen throughout autumn, and in-season hunting is allowed; two areas of the forest are stocked with game birds in October and November.

• • •

Myles Standish State Forest is near Plymouth and Carver, Mass.

The park has five camping areas, leased cabins, 15 miles of paved bicycle trails, 35 miles of equestrian trails, 13 miles of hiking trails, ponds, a cranberry bog and a pitch pine-scrub oak ecosystem.

Admission is free; camping fees vary. For more information, call 508/866-2526 or go to www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/mssf.htm.

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