Exploring Natural Plymouth, One Preserve at a Time: Hoyt-Hall Preserve

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to join members of the Wildlands Trust and eight other locals for a 2.5-mile tour of Hoyt-Hall Preserve in Marshfield. As a recent transplant to Southeastern Massachusetts, this was my first opportunity to explore a natural area beyond my adopted hometown of Plymouth, and Hoyt-Hall served as a good introduction to some of the this dynamic landscape’s other manifestations.

As with much of the rest of the Bay State’s natural landscapes, the forests and wetlands of Hoyt-Hall Preserve are a study in changing patterns of human land use. At the outset of the walk, tour leader Hayley Leonard educated us on how much of Hoyt-Hall encompasses former farmland, and that the forests we’d be traversing are secondary successional forests. Moreover, Hoyt-Hall’s freshwater Long Tom Pond is a product of colonial-era damming of what used to be an extension of tidal Duxbury Bay.

Yet Hoyt-Hall’s recent history of extensive human disturbance did not negate the ability of its relatively young forests to create a world of their own. Despite following well defined trails, we still had to navigate serpentine tree root systems that threatened to trip us up with one errant step. And our frequent transitions between swamplands dominated by red oaks and upland forests dominated by white pines underlined the truth that we were traversing a natural ecosystem that conforms to its own logic of biologic and topographic variety.

Hoyt-Hall Preserve has only been in existence for 19 years, and the ecosystem I hiked through is an expression of the latest, preservation-oriented phase of the Preserve’s land. Thus, Hoyt-Hall stands as testament to how human intervention can at times be to the land’s benefit.

Wildlands Trust’s Hayley Leonard explaining the natural history of a red oak swampland.