A fall walk through the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp

Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail, Wellfleet

The trail begins here  and wanders through a 1.25 mile White Cedar swamp on a boardwalk.

"A man may stand there and put all America behind him." Henry David Thoreau.

Photos by Pat Brooks

Along the way we met a man picking edible mushrooms.
The boardwalk is devoid of people this time of year.
This trail abuts the famous Marconi Site.
An old postcardcof the Marconi site when it sent the first trans-Atlantic message from here.
Information signs guide the visitor.
Another view of the site when is was in use.

Fall, when the tourist crowds have left, is the perfect time to visit our Cape Cod National Seashore Park trails. This  Sunday my granddaughter and I walked the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail  white cedar which abuts the Marconi Site in Wellfleet.

The 1.25 mile long trail here begins through high bush blueberry and includes a boardwalk . It intersects with Cape Cod Rail Trail at the Marconi Area, off Rte. 6. Follow brown signs to the Marconi Site and White Cedar Swamp.

The National Seashore describes this trail as descending through a stunted oak and pine forest into a mature woodland, leading to a boardwalk that winds through the picturesque
Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, and returns via the historic “Wireless Road” (a sand road) to the starting location.

How the swamp was formed

When the last glacier retreated, only a dry, shallow depression here in the barren debris marked where a block of ice once lay. There were no ponds, because glaciers still locked up much of the world’s water – and the Ice Age sea stood 400 feet lower than today. But as the ocean rose, the fresh-water table of land was lifted. And so, at last, fresh water intersected this “kettle” about 7,000 years ago.

Plants of both land and water added their debris to the depression. Today, this layer of peat is 24 feet deep.

It is the nature of the Atlantic white cedar to invade swamps. Fires, storms, or logging, may repeatedly level such a forest, but this tree will return again and again. Indeed, without catastrophes to repeat the process of invasion, red maple and tupelo will, in turn, become invaders.

The red maple invasion has already begun, but it is a gradual thing. The seedlings of Atlantic white cedar, like pitch pine, will eventually fail to grow in the deep shade. Still, only if there are several centuries without disturbance (a rare thing in nature), will there be a complete change.

Pines tower above young oaks, and they grow among the larger oaks today, but their demise is certain. Pine seedlings cannot grow in the deep shade of summer, and so, as the older pines age and die, they will not be replaced by their own kind.

In the short run, an oak forest will emerge to cover more and more land. In the middle run a beech forest may appear. And in the long run, all of it will succumb to the advancing sea which erodes several feet of Cape Cod each year.

Visit the Marconi site here

January 18, 1903, the first public two-way wireless communication between Europe and America occurred. With elation, communiques from President Theodore Roosevelt and King Edward VII were translated into international Morse code at the South Wellfleet and English stations, respectively, and were broadcast.

Ocean-going vessels quickly adopted Marconi apparatus to receive news broadcasts, and soon, ship-to-shore transmittals were a major operation. Business and social messages could be sent for fifty cents a word. The South Wellfleet station became the lead North American facility for this function. The station’s effectiveness was limited however, so broadcasts were made between 10 P.M. and 2 A.M. when atmospheric conditions were best.

This brought little enthusiasm from local residents, who endured the sounds of the crashing spark from the great three-foot rotor supplied with 30,000 watts. The sound of the spark could be heard four miles downwind from the station.

Saving the Titantic survivors

On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic, an Olympic-class ocean liner, sank to her watery grave on the ocean floor after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic on her maiden voyage.  While 710 people were rescued, 1,514 perished in the disaster.  Many don't realize the connection between the Marconi wireless station in Wellfleet and the Titanic. Wireless messages in the form of Morse Code sent from the Cape to the Carpathia triggered the rescue of the Titanic survivors.

"A man may stand there and put all America behind him." Henry David Thoreau.

CapeCodToday.com welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on CapeCodToday.com.