The cranberry is Massachusetts official state berry, and cranberry bog farms have taken root in the economy and culture surrounding Plymouth, Massachusetts for 200 years.

To create these Cape Cod farms generations ago, farmers altered the landscape to hold and manage water for optimum cranberry growing conditions. The farms often replaced coastal wetland, and the valuable migrating bird habitat these wetlands offered.

Ducks Unlimited and its partners look for opportunities to turn retired farms back into coastal habitat. Working with willing landowners and partners, the land is protected and restored and becomes ripe for waterfowl and shorebirds.

Work has started on the latest project, Foothills Preserve (also known as Tidmarsh West), a 100-acre former cranberry bog now owned by the Town of Plymouth. Because Plymouth is one of the fastest-growing towns in Massachusetts, protecting land near the town is vital.

The project, expected to be complete in 2019-20, will remove dikes and dams. Stream reconstruction and ditch plugging will enable water to flow from the surrounding landscape back into a natural wetland setting. The result will be a diverse, self-sustaining habitat that will benefit wildlife and improve floodwater storage and water purification while reducing nutrient run-off.

The project will reconnect the site to the flood plain and back to the ocean, which will restore natural habitat, said Sarah Fleming, Ducks Unlimited Massachusetts biologist and manager of Ducks Unlimiteds Completing the Cycle Initiative.

The site will feature hiking trails and public access for hunting.

This project is adjacent to Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary, another former cranberry farm, owned by Massachusetts Audubon Society Inc., that Ducks Unlimited recently helped protect. Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary is a 481-acre site which underwent the largest freshwater ecological restoration ever completed in the Northeast.

Alex Hackman is a restoration ecologist for the Massachusetts DFG Division of Ecological Restoration (DER), and manages the divisions Cranberry Bog Program. Southeast Massachusetts has just over 13,000 acres of cranberry farms, and the state is working with willing landowners who are interested in retiring from the cranberry industry.

Its all about what the landowner wants to do, Hackman said. Were trying to offer services for landowners interested in what we call a green exit strategy, involving land protection and restoration.

Most of the farms in the region were built on historic wetlands, that today are degraded from sand fill, ditching, and water control structures.

Funding for Foothills preserve came from a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant with partner funding through the Town of Plymouth, Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, Massachusetts Audubon Society Inc., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, and National Resources Conservation Service.