Plymouth: South Ponds Preserve

  CLwpBS  great south pond

People & Nature in Harmony

Network of conservation lands in Plymouth with globally rare ecosystem offers unique, world class educational and recreational opportunities for all

Join the effort to steward our region’s unique and threatened forests, waterways and environmental heritage in Plymouth and beyond

The South Ponds Preserve in Plymouth is a network of state, town and private conservation land with some of the world’s most important biodiversity. The Coastal Plain Ponds and Atlantic Pine Barrens Forests is unique and important to protect!

Our Vision

Our  vision is for a private-public partnership with the Town of Plymouth, state and federal agencies and land trusts, for stewardship of this amazing place. In total, there are almost 1,000 acres of open space connected to Myles Standish State Forest.

The map below shows the conservation areas. The 12,000 acre Myles Standish State Forest is to the south and located in Plymouth and Carver. It offers recreational facilities for swimming, hiking and camping. Find out more about Myles Standish  here.  This interconnected network of lands offers an amazing opportunity for all to enjoy and learn from nature. It includes the Plymouth Town Forest.

Condition of the pond shore, 2015. As of 2023, the pond shore has been damaged by illegal charcoal fires, trampling of the plants, and unlawful camping, and cookouts. Photo: D. Stowell.

Town Forest Conservation Restriction, 2007

The Town Forest is in the heart of the Preserve. In 2007, the State Division of Fish and Wildlife paid Plymouth for a conservation restriction on the Town Forest. Read the Conservation Restriction here. This means the Town received funds in exchange for the legal duty to steward the Town Forest in the way set out in a detailed conservation easement.

When a conservation restriction is put in place, there is a “baseline report” prepared that documents the condition of the land when the restriction is put in place. The report establishes the conditions that must be maintained in the future. Here is the Town Forest Baseline Documentation Report from 2007. The Town has a legal duty to make sure that the public does not do things on the land that violates the purpose of the conservation restriction or its specific terms. The Town has to maintain the land consistent with the Baseline Documentation Report. If the Town lets the Town Forest’s plants, animals and waters be harmed in any way it can be legally liable for violating the conservation easement.

Plants and animals protected under the law

Many plants and animals protected by state and federal laws are found in the Town Forest and surrounding conservation lands. These plants and animals are protected because they are rare and important to our ecosystems. This includes the Northern Cooter turtle. Anyone who destroys plans and animals protected under these laws, the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act or the federal Endangered Species Act can be subject to civil penalties, fines and even imprisonment. This includes the Town of Plymouth.

Learn about the unique plants in the South Ponds Preserve complex on the Saliciola website. Search for plant names like New England Boneset and Plymouth Gentian! Below: Plymouth Gentian, Little South Pond 2017.

Stewardship Challenges

 The South Ponds Preserve area is being damaged due to lack of stewardship of the Plymouth Town Forest and threats from unauthorized uses of surrounding lands. This included motorized vehicles that illegally cut trails through the forests and ride in prohibited areas.

The Town Forest is located at the northern edge of the South Pond Preserve. Other conservation areas in the Preserve are owned by Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts and the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are responsible for stewarding those lands. The South Ponds Preserve coalition seeks to coordinate stewardship of all these lands to provide a world class experience for residents and visitors alike.

The biggest challenge to the South Ponds Preserve is stewardship of the Town Forest. The rules are set by the Conservation Restriction held by the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) on the Town Forest are not being enforced. Read more below.

The Town’s violations of its duty to enforce the CR on the Town Forest

Due to the Town of Plymouth’s failure over about 10 years to follow the Conservation Restriction, residents and the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife have had to step in.

State’s 2023 Letter to the Select Board

In January, 2023, Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife sent a letter to the Town of Plymouth, demanding that the Town address an increase in illegal parking, foot traffic, dumping, and human waste on the Town Forest land around Great South and Little South Ponds since least 2019.

The Division pointed out that problems are due to the decision by the Select Board to strip the Town’s Natural Resource Officers of the ability to enforce rules around the Pond area regarding parking and trespass. This means the area is unprotected and the conservation restriction was being violated by the Town. In the January 25, 2023 letter, the Division requested that Plymouth take the following actions:

  1. Commitment for consistent enforcement of illegal parking along Drew Road, including daily patrols and citations issued to all illegally parked vehicles, especially during the months of June, July and August when activity inconsistent with the conservation restriction is at a peak.
  2. Commitment for consistent foot patrols of the sandy shoreline at the north end of Great South Pond during the same time period to enforce the no swimming regulation, as well other unauthorized/illegal activities (fires, dumping, public drinking, cutting of vegetation, etc).
  3. Improved signage along Drew Road indicating no parking aside from the two designated/official parking areas.
  4. Establishment of a formal tow zone for the entirety of Drew Road, with the exception of the two designated/official parking areas, which would enable illegally parked vehicles to be towed at the owner’s expense.
  5. Continued and improved blockage of illegal roadside parking areas along Drew Road. The Town should install permanent blockades (guardrail, boulders, posts, etc) to eliminate all illegal roadside parking/pull-offs.

The State’s 2023 letter to the Town of Plymouth is here:

State’s 2022 Letter

In 2020, the Division of Fish & Wildlife sent warning letter to the Plymouth Police Department telling them that increased enforcement at the Town Forest is required by the Conservation Restriction. Read the letter here:

Coalition Efforts


In 2022, the South Ponds Preserve issued a report prepared by Mass Audubon, “South Ponds Preserve, Plymouth, Massachusetts: Conservation Status and Future Stewardship.” This report is guiding our Vision for a world-class conservation area!

The report is here:

The report a starting point and framework for building community support for long term stewardship of the South Ponds Preserve area. It is a model for other Coastal Plain Ponds in Plymouth. We invite all feedback and participation. Email comments to

Documenting violations of the Conservation Restriction in the Town Forest

Documenting violations of the Town Forest Conservation Restriction is an important part of guiding future conservation efforts. This information helps us understand what funding and resources are needed to take care of this special place.

July 2020: Little South Pond, Town Forest parking area being used as a toilet and dump. This pond is part of the Town’s back up water supply and a rare species habitat.
July, 2020: Little South Pond, Town Forest, Drew Road parking area, rare mussels destroyed

July 2022 Report Documenting Violations:

Concerned residents are cleaning up the beach and trying to prevent a public health hazard, contamination of the water, and biodiversity destruction.


Community Land and Water Coalition has teamed up with local advocacy partners to develop a stewardship program for South Ponds Preserve. This stewardship program will consists of monitoring the Preserve and educating users about proper uses of the preserve, and how to protect nature and wildlife. Our stewardship program will continue to grow over 2024 as we advocate and work for better protections for the pond, so that people and nature can continue to live in harmony. Please read our work below:


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