It’s a tradition of sorts on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard to occasionally vent the salt ponds along the southern shores and let them “freshen” up with some new seawater. Sometimes the locals get in some trouble for bulldozing a gut through the sand, but all in all the ecologists seem to agree that its nature’s’ way to occasionally breach the beach and flush things out.
Here in Cotuit, at the southern end of the village, lies Rushy Marsh — a small brackish pond surrounded by big houses with spectacular views, but choked with phragmites and all but devoid of life. This pond was once a true salt pond, with regular tidal exchange with Nantucket Sound, but as Cotuit historian Jim Gould points out in his recent excellent history of the area, the shore began to change in 1910 due to human interference with the natural order of the coast — aka the littoral drift — in the form of the Wianno Cut and the shoreside groins. Eventually Rushy Marsh was walled off from the Sound and began to stagnate.
It hasn’t been open since 1911.
In 1999 some local residents banded together as the Friends of Rushy Marsh and were able to secure the permits and funding needed to restore the connection between the marsh and the sound. From the Cape Cod Times article of September 21, 2010:
“In the case of Rushy Marsh, Joanne Erikson, Gretchen Reilly and a group of neighbors started talking to the town more than a decade ago about re-opening the marsh to the sea.
“They were concerned about the spreading phragmites, an invasive species of grass that thrives in fresh water, and the lack of fish and other marine life in Rushy Marsh.
“They raised money to help fund a water quality study, the latest of which showed that their marsh was dying. They were also told that wastewater from their septic systems was adding too many nutrients to the marsh, causing runaway plant growth.
“They are hoping that the renewed tidal flow from the new project will flush out enough contaminants to prevent the need to install sewers. For the reopening of a collapsed sluiceway to the marsh, $271,000 is allocated.
“We’re looking forward to the day when people can fish there again,” said Erikson.”
Their work has come to fruition, and as my cousin wrote when he emailed me this photo: “Let the healing begin.”
I’ve heard this used to be an excellent place to catch white perch — a species found only in coastal ponds (the record has been caught on Nantucket in one of the island’s ponds) — maybe someday they’ll come back and be worth pursuing.
A lot of people deserve credit for making this happen. The town’s conservation commission, Three Bays Preservation, the Barnstable Land Trust, and of course, the dedicated band of neighbors who pushed it through. Here’s the new sluiceway from the marsh across Oregon Beach. Looking at it makes me imagine I can hear the pond smile and exhale a big sigh of relief.
The pond is at the top of the aerial photo below:
- Three Bays: their Rushy Marsh page.
- The 2002 study that kicked things off.
- Jim Gould’s blog post on Rushy “Russia” Marsh
- Cape Cod Times article on the ladies who saved Rushy Marsh.
- My post on the effect that groins and jetties have had on the beaches around Cotuit.