The Foundation’s Squam Swamp consists of hardwood forests, freshwater bogs, shrub swamps, grassy meadows, and vernal pools. This property is dominated by hardwood forests of tupelo, red maple, sassafras, and American beech trees interspersed with fern-filled pockets of wetlands. A walking trail and accompanying interpretive brochure provides an introduction to many of the ecological, geological, and historical features of this property. The 1.75 mile round trip trail is well marked and has numbered posts keyed to the interpretive map. Along the southern portion of the trail, there is an access path that leads to the Foundation’s adjoining Squam Farm property.
Squam Swamp is located on Wauwinet Road. From the Rotary, follow Milestone Road ¼ mile and turn left onto Polpis Road. Follow Polpis Road 6 miles and turn left onto Wauwinet Road. Follow Wauwinet Road 1.5 miles and look for the parking area on the right (it is just after you pass Pocomo Road on your left). There is ample parking located within the post and rail fencing at the trailhead. There are no facilities.
Squam Swamp contains a diverse collection of natural areas, including hardwood forests, freshwater bogs, and vernal pools. The existing hardwood forests on this property contain 40 to 50-foot high stands of black tupelo, red maple, sassafras, red oak, white oak, and American beech trees. Forests such as this are relatively rare on Nantucket. Settlers that arrived in the early 1600’s reported that the island was covered with large trees. However, this quickly changed as they were harvested for home construction, ship building, and firewood. Today, Nantucket’s forests are limited to certain areas and tend to occur in small depressions known as hidden forests that were formed during the last glacial era.
A common tree species found in Squam Swamp is black tupelo, also known as black gum. These trees can be recognized by their tall, straight trunks, horizontal zig-zag branches, and gray, furrowed bark. On Martha’s Vineyard, this species is referred to as the “beetlebung tree” because it has extremely tough wood that was made into mallets (called beetles). These were used to pound wooden bungs (stoppers) into whale oil casks. Another common species is the swamp red maple. This species has a shallow, spreading root system that enables it to take advantage of what little oxygen is available just below the surface of wetland soils. A disadvantage is that older and taller trees often fall over during storms and high winds due to lack of support. The water-filled depressions that remain where these trees have been uprooted provide ideal habitat for amphibians and reptiles such as the spring peeper, painted turtle, green frog, and the rare spotted turtle.
Vernal pools occur throughout Squam Swamp. These fresh water wetlands either dry up for a portion of the year, or contain water year-round but are free of adult fish populations. Vernal pools are extremely important breeding habitat for amphibians whose eggs and larvae would be preyed upon by fish in freshwater ponds. They also contain diverse populations of invertebrates, which are a rich source of food for the amphibians, reptiles, and birds that are attracted to these sites.
Sphagnum, a large group of mosses that can hold up to twenty-five times their weight in water, is common throughout Squam Swamp. As the top portions of this plant grow, the underlying layers become deprived of sunlight and die. Thick mats of dead Sphagnum gradually build up and become compressed, forming extensive layers of peat. As the Sphagnum accumulates, the plants on the surface become isolated from groundwater minerals and nutrients. This causes oxygen depletion and a build-up of acids, which are the by-product of plant decay. Most plants cannot tolerate such harsh conditions, except a few species that have developed special survival adaptations that allow them to grow here. Swamp azalea and sheep laurel are two examples of such species that are common at Squam Swamp.
Walter H. Sangree and Mary L. Sangree (gift of undivided 30% interest with remaining title purchased by NCF)
Purchased by NCF with special support from the residents of Wauwinet, Squam, and Pocomo
Molly B. Sziklas
The Foundation’s hardwood forests at Squam Swamp (as well as our adjoining property at Squam Farm) were designated as part of the Old-Growth Forest Network in June 2021. The Old Growth Forest Network seeks to create a national network of protected exemplary old growth and secondary growth forests by working towards the designation of one exemplary forest within every U.S. County. Although the concept of “old-growth” forest is not applicable to Nantucket due to its relatively recent glaciation and past land use history, the Foundation’s forests at Squam are some of the oldest and most pristine on the island. This designation is afforded to landowners that have permanently protected their forest sites and have policies in place that prohibit commercial logging.