People are invited to learn about and enjoy the often misunderstood pine barrens at a free public festival this weekend offering archery lessons, pony rides, hiking, kayaking, and insight into how to build a Wampanoag shade shelter and make charcoal, among a host of other activities.
"People hear 'barrens' and they think, 'Oh, tear it down and build more houses,' " said Evelyn Strawn, chairwoman of the "Pine Fest" taking place in Myles Standish State Forest this weekend. "But it's a pretty neat place if you take the time and go for a walk in the forest."
Strawn, who lives near the forest, is a member of the board of the Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance, a group that draws together organizations with an interest in "protecting and restoring" the unique pine barrens habitat.
A pine barrens is a plant community that occurs in the dry, acidic, and largely infertile sandy soils of glacial deposits. Dominated by grasses, low shrubs, and pitch pine, it's home to plants, rare moths, and other life forms that have adapted to its ecology and won't flourish anywhere else. It may not have the grandeur of a deep hardwood forest, but many find its open views and opportunities for outdoor activity appealing.
Located in both Carver and Plymouth, Myles Standish State Forest is the center of the second-largest pine barrens in the US — southern New Jersey has a larger one — extending from part of Duxbury through the state forest and covering much of Cape Cod, Strawn said.
The point of the Pine Fest, she said, is to teach people about the pine barrens and draw them to experience it themselves with a range of activities and demonstrations of woodland crafts and survival skills, both contemporary and historical.
Alliance members such as Mass Audubon and the Plymouth-based Wildlands Trust concentrate on environmental preservation. "But at the same time," Strawn said, "you need residents and tourists to understand that you can have a good time there."
Organizers hope that the event's long list of things to do and see will draw people to the Charge Pond Campground. The list includes learning how to use a GPS to keep from getting lost in the woods; seeing how the Wampanoag built a traditional woodland shelter; learning how the deep-woods charcoal burners of various nations constructed a charcoal pit; making bread and cooking it over an open fire.
Visitors can also practice the bow and arrow, ride a pony, hike a woodlands trail, and kayak on the pond.
Festival-goers will learn how the activities of indigenous peoples in "pre-contact" days — that is, before the arrival of Europeans — and early European settlers affected the environment. "We want them to understand from a historical perspective the impact people have had on this environment over time," Strawn said. Indigenous people built shelters and canoes, hunted and fished. "The Colonists took the ore out to make cannon balls," she said.
Frank Mand and Alex Belote will demonstrate "Charcoal-Making the Old Fashioned Way." "Living a lonely life in the forest, almost like wild beasts," Mand states in his description of the life of the charcoal burner. Charcoal is made when wood is burned in a pit covered over with earth so the fire gets no oxygen and the wood chars.
Gay Head (Aquinnah) tribal leader Jonathan Perry will help participants build a Wampanoag pine barrens shade shelter.
"I spent a lot of time in my community and other Native communities, participating in gatherings, celebrations, and ceremonies," Perry states in a Smithsonian National Museum interview series. "It gave me the opportunity to learn from elders and knowledge keepers."
Astrid Huseby of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife will teach target archery. "In each one-hour archery session, you will learn the safety rules for archery, the eleven steps to archery success, and get a chance to shoot a bow!" Huseby states in her description of her activity.
Paula Marcoux, author of "Cooking with Fire," will lead a hands-on campfire bread-making class. Participants will learn how to make bread on an open fire in three different ways, Marcoux said last week — with no equipment, with a griddle, and with a bake kettle.
"I like to pare back the technical level," she said.
The simplest way, called "warrior's bread," involves placing the dough beneath the embers of a fire. You poke it with a stick to remove the hard-crusted loaf when done and slap it against a rock to remove the ashes. "It's a good trick to know," she said. "It's strangely delicious."
Her class will run from 10:30 a.m. to noon and is limited to 10 registered participants (12 and over). To register, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Certified instructors from Plymouth's Billington Sea Kayak Lessons & Paddle will teach kayaking throughout the day.
Gerry Wright of Belmont, who researched and wrote his one-man show about Frederick Law Olmsted, the pioneering landscape architect of Central Park in New York City and hundreds of other public spaces, will portray Olmsted at the fest. Olmsted believed that parks should be designed so that all citizens could use them.
Theresa Sprague, the owner of BlueFlax design, will teach landscaping with indigenous species. Her plant talk and demonstration will include a short walk to identify native plants and discuss how they can be used in the home landscape.
Equestrian training and pony rides will be offered by Theresa Carman, Reva Levin, and the Hanson Hot to Trots 4-H club.
More information about the wide range of the full day's activities and a list of other participants, including local organizations such as Cape Cod Bay Watch, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and Girls Scouts of Plymouth, is available at www.pinebarrensalliance.org.
Robert Knox can be reached at email@example.com.