Wellfleet, Cape Cod, is best known for its ocean and bay beaches, but summer swimmers should not ignore the town’s many inland ponds, all of which are an easy distance of never more than 2.5 km from the sea.
The National Sea Shore owns over thirty fresh-water ponds on Cape Cod, two-thirds of which are situated in the neighboring towns of Wellfleet and Truro. These ponds are classified as “kettles” — they were created by receding glaciers that dug into the land and left behind depressions filled with their own melt water. While the kettle ponds do not have any rivers feeding or draining them (with the exception of Herring Pond) they are not without inputs and outputs — the ponds are essentially exposed water tables. The Cape’s soil is largely made up of permeable sand. Water is able to flow through it, westward towards the sea, as through an underground stream.
The ponds are remarkably round from the birds’ eye view provided by Google Maps. Originally, they were not so finished as they appear today. The smaller ponds surrounding Great Pond — Northeast, Southeast and Turtle Ponds — were once united with Great, as were Higgins, Herring, Williams, Slough, Round and Horseleech Ponds a part of Gull Pond. These changes were affected by the close proximity of the ponds to the sea — the waves, as they push against the soft sanded coast sculpt both Cape Cod’s exterior and interior.
Gull, Great and Long Ponds are, respectively, the three largest and most visited of the kettles. Gull Pond has canoes, kayaks, sunfish and other boats for rental. It also has a float for jumping, as does Long Pond, which make them a favorite for children. Swimming lessons are sometimes offered by the town and lifeguards. Adults might prefer the smaller, less busy ponds like Herring, Dyer, Duck, Williams and Spectacle. These are a bit less accessible. The seclusion, though, can be a definite plus. Parking spaces are limited at all the ponds and a beach sticker is required. These can be bought at the Town Pier at 255 Commercial Street.
This table shows the number of houses surrounding each of the ponds, an important health consideration — septic tanks leak and their contents can easily seep into the nearby pond water. Ear infections are a common consequence. Taking this and children into account, it’s advisable to visit the more populated ponds in May and June, rather than July, August or September, when the water is most polluted.