First Encounter with the Pamet Cranberry Bog
by Clare Flynn
Last week, I made a new friend…and by friend, I mean the Pamet Cranberry Bog, the cultural landscape on Cape Cod National Seashore for which I am preparing a Cultural Landscape Inventory (CLI) during the first few weeks of my internship with the Olmsted Center.
After months of wondering what project I would be working on and a week of intensively trying to get to know as much about the landscape as I possibly could through written documents (but no maps or photos), I finally had the chance to see the Pamet Cranberry Bog in person when we spent five glorious days on the Cape last week, along with an amazing group of NPS staff, interns, and volunteers from SUNY ESF, Gateway National Recreation Area, Minute Man National Historical Park, and Salem Maritime National Historical Park (Miss you guys!).
It was like finally meeting someone face-to-face with whom you’ve only previously corresponded through letters or emails: I had a general sense of what the Pamet Cranberry Bog was before going to Cape Cod and a distant fondness for it, but I had no images or real emotions to attach to it.
“But wait!” you may say. “What is a ‘cranberry bog?’ and what in the world is a ‘pamet?’” Having grown up in a part of the country (the Central Valley of California) where cranberry cultivation is not the norm, trust me, I had the same questions.
Roughly put, the Pamet Cranberry Bog consists of three small freshwater bogs, a modified two-story “bog house,” sand pits, and a system of drains, culverts, and other hydrological features that all together were used to produce cranberries for commercial use during the late 19th to mid-20th century. It’s fascinating once you start to understand how they all worked together and can visually put them all together in space.
“Pamet,” meanwhile, is a term that has several layers of meaning. First, the cranberry bogs are located in the Pamet River Valley, appropriately named after the Pamet River near the town of Truro on Cape Cod. The river and valley were in turn named after the Pamet tribe of Wampanoag Indians who called this part of the Cape home. The term also has geological significance. The Pamet River Valley was formed when the glacier covering Cape Cod during the Ice Age began to melt, eroding the glacial deposits it left behind and forming a massive outwash channel of meltwater that stretched from Cape Cod Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the unusual way in which this river valley was created, the term “pamet” can be used to describe similar geological features formed in this way.
Armed with this information, off to the Pamet Cranbery Bog we went. After pulling our crammed minivan into the grassy road that leads up to the Bog House and dousing ourselves with enough bug spray to ward off any malicious critters in the vicinity (I’m convinced there’s still a cloud of DEET hovering somewhere in the airspace over the bogs), we trudged down a path so overgrown that only the roof of the bog house was visible. At the end of the path, we were presented with a bucolic scene: a deteriorating but beautiful, wood shingle clad Cape Cod house surrounded by cherry trees, pitch pines, oak trees, and—our absolute favorite—a thick and ever-present undergrowth of poison ivy.
We split up into four groups with varying specialties (plant identification, drafting) spread out evenly amongst each and began documenting the landscape with photos, measurements, and handwritten notes, making sure to pick up any significant features along the way. I was particularly and pleasantly surprised to discover a small outbuilding a short distance from the bog house that had been previously unknown to me!
After this, Park Historian Bill Burke gave us an introduction to the Pamet Cranberry Bog and its history with the National Parks Service, before leading us on a short hike up Bearberry Hill to a viewpoint overlooking the bogs. From there, the severity of the site’s neglected and overgrown condition became depressingly clear: all that was discernible of the Pamet Cranberry Bog was the roof of the Bog House, poking through a sea of thick trees and shrubs. There was little or no sign of the cranberry bogs, themselves, and if Bill hadn’t pointed out their location to us, we would have had a very difficult time trying to figure out where they were.
On the bright side, we did get to take some pretty sweet group photos, using our arms to mimic the shape of Cape Cod and point out our location…
On our way back down to the vans, we experienced a lot of the mixed emotions that must be all too common among NPS staff members and anyone with a passion for cultural resources. On the one hand, we were struck by the truly beautiful and peaceful setting of the bogs—an experience very different from the tick and poison ivy-infested image we’d expected—and were filled with a desire to do something to share this amazing place with others. But on the other hand, we were saddened by its severely deteriorated condition and the lack of public access to a site that seems to have so much potential and also frustrated by the reality that the NPS simply doesn’t have the resources or funding to adequately maintain all of the sites in its care.
One of the most memorable concepts that came up repeatedly on our trip to Cape Cod was the idea of “preservation through use:” that when people use a cultural landscape, maintenance and preservation often occur naturally. Many of us interns came away from the Pamet Cranberry Bogs wishing there was a way to bring people back to the site. We’d been told about previous attempts to rehabilitate portions of the bogs for educational purposes in the 1970s, restore the bogs by leasing them to a private cranberry grower in the 1990s, or turn the Bog House into a youth hostel more recently. We even began brainstorming our own ideas (Our half-joking favorite was the idea of creating a “CranBrewery.” Cranberry-infused ciders and sour beers, anyone?).
Having fallen in love with the Pamet Cranberry Bog in just two weeks of getting to know it, I still hold out hope that the bog will not be lost entirely and that, someday, it will be restored or rehabilitated for others to appreciate. Perhaps, my CLI will be the first step.
Until next time,