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  • South Nashua River (outfall from the Wachusett Reservoir; the Nashua River mainstem begins at the confluence of the North and South Nashua Rivers in Lancaster)

  • Stillwater River (The Quinapoxet and Stillwater Rivers flow into the Wachusett Reservoir)

MA Towns in the Nashua River Watershed:

  • Ashburnham

  • Ashby

  • Ayer

  • Bolton

  • Boylston

  • Clinton

  • Devens

  • Dunstable

  • Fitchburg

  • Gardner​

  • Groton

  • Harvard

  • Holden

  • Lancaster

  • Leominster

  • Lunenburg

  • Paxton

  • Pepperell

  • Princeton

  • Rutland

  • Shirley

  • Sterling

  • Townsend

  • West Boylston

  • Westminster

Major Tributaries:

Segments of the Nashua, Squannacook, and Nissitissit Rivers are federally designated as Wild & Scenic Rivers.

  • Bowers Brook

  • Catacunemaug Brook

  • Flints Brook

  • James Brook

  • Mulpus Brook

  • Nonacoicus Brook

  • Still River

  • Unkety Brook

  • Varnum Brook

  • Nissitissit River

  • Squannacook River

  • North Nashua River

  • Quinapoxet River

Learn More

Environmental Concerns for the Nashua


Stormwater runoff and improper pharmaceutical disposal are both issues for the Nashua River. Invasive species and excessive algae blooms can interfere with recreation (and smell bad!).




Additional Facts


History:

  • The name Nashua comes from the native word for the river “Nash-a-way” meaning “river with the pebbled bottom.”
  • In the 1970s, only 2% of the riverbanks along the Nashua and its tributaries were protected. By the 2010s, 200 miles of riverbanks became permanently protected, equal to 50% of the NRWA’s greenway goal.
  • In the 2000s, multiple forested areas within the Nashua River Watershed joined the Forest Legacy Program to help protect them from deforestation.
  • In 2019 the Nashua and some of its tributaries became federally-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Be on the lookout for these species along the river:
  • On land - White pine, red maple, swamp white oak, black willow, sycamore, yellow birch, white birch, common alder, poison ivy, and wild grape.
  • In the water - Pickerel weed, cattails, wolffia, duckweed, common hornwort, and common bladderwort.
  • Birds: Baltimore orioles, red wing blackbirds, tree and barn swallows, belted kingfishers, warblers, mallards, Canada geese, great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, osprey, and bald eagles.
  • Insects and Spiders: Water striders, whirligig beetles, damselflies, dragonflies, nymphs, stilt spiders, and crayfish.
  • Mammals: Beavers, river otters, muskrats, and minks.
  • Reptiles: Painted turtles, musk turtles, snapping turtles, and northern water snakes.
  • Fish: Largemouth bass, sunfish, pickerels, yellow perch, trout, bullhead catfish, and minnows.





Organizations working in the Nashua River Watershed:​

Nashua River Watershed Association

Wild and Scenic Nashua Rivers

Photo: Cindy Knox Photography

What Are People Saying?

On important steps we should take: "My feelings were then and are still now that to keep our rivers clean we must protect the natural vegetation along the rivers creating a continuous Greenway along both sides."

 

On past changes: "I’m happy that we were successful in getting the Federal Water Pollution Control Act passed in 1965. We had to get it passed before anyone in the United States could clean up their rivers. I’m happy, too, that we were able to pass the Massachusetts Clean Water Act the following year. We could not have restored the Nashua River without first passing federal and state legislation mandating clean water."

On progress thus far: "I’m happy that we have protected 200 miles of land along the Nashua River and its tributaries, one-half of its river frontage. I’m not happy that we haven’t protected the other 200 miles."

On hopes for the future: "My goal is to have a continuous Greenway along the length of the Nashua River and its tributaries."

- Marion Stoddart (Founding Director Emeritus, Nashua River Watershed Association)

"An all-time favorite is when Martha and I are paddling, usually for a reason, such as to scout for invasive water chestnut. We are paddling a lot and I’ll be out there and I’m dirty, I’m sweaty, I’m thirsty and I’m still saying, “This is the best job in the world” because of the river. It gets into that beautiful feeling of gratitude to all the people who cared enough to save it."

On past changes and hopes for the future: "From a river dominated by pollution, factories, mills, waste, and prior to the Clean Water Act of the federal legislation, there’s no doubt, [the Nashua River] is like a poster child of a river that would not have survived had it not been for that strong legislation and the work of so many people. Moving forward, [I hope to see] more people enjoy and take care of the river." 

On why rivers are important: "Rivers are special places that tie us together. They flow. There’s something about that flowing water that gives sustenance to us all–humans, animals, aquatic creatures. The river sustains us in many, many ways. I think across the entire earth we would be much less of a vibrant world without rivers."  

- Kathryn Nelson (Water Monitoring Coordinator, Nashua River Watershed Association)

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On challenges: "Development is the biggest threat to water quality, particularly poorly planned development. Marion Stoddart is right that greenways along our rivers help to filter runoff and provide uninterrupted wildlife corridors. But we all live in a watershed, and everything that happens on the land affects water quality in our local streams and rivers." 

On a cool fact about the Nashua: "In 50 years it evolved from one of the 10 most polluted rivers in the country to having Wild & Scenic status."   

On a favorite memory: "I always enjoyed our once-a-month Saturday mornings in the Devens Wastewater Treatment Facility working with lab volunteers, waiting for samples to come in from field volunteers, the stories of their sites they shared with me and with each other, and the feeling that they’re there because they care about “their” rivers and streams."

- Martha Morgan (Water Programs Director, Nashua River Watershed Association)

Nashua River Activities
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Swimming
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Walk, Hike, Bike
Paddling
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Boating & Sailing
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Fishing
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Swimming

 

There are many unofficial favorite swimming locations on the Nashua River.

The Nashua River Watershed Association posts a River Report Card on their website on their Water Monitoring Program page (click here).This report is based on NRWA’S monthly E.coli bacteria testing program and is not meant to be a health advisory for safe swimming, though it show that the water meets swimming standards at most locations.

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Walking, Running, Biking

 

Walking, hiking, and biking locations:

  • Nashua River Rail Trail. 12 mile paved trail great for biking, running, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding (for part of it)!

  • Harry Rich State Forest (Groton). Several maintained trails here. Click here for a pdf map of the State Forest provided by the Groton Trails Network.

  • Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge (Harvard).  Includes the Riverside Trail, Tank Road, and the Turnpike Trail. The Oxbow NWR in Devens includes the Bill Ashe Visitor Center and the Bill Ashe Trail. Operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • Groton Place, and Sabine Woods (Groton). Property of the New England Forestry Foundation. Park at Route 225 in Groton (a map can be found here).

The NRWA website offers trail maps for hiking and walking based on location, and more information about birds that can be spotted in the Nashua River watershed.

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Paddling

 
  • Still River Depot Road/ Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge Launch (Harvard)

    • From the U.S. FWS: From Massachusetts Route 2, take Exit 38 (Route 110/111) south toward Harvard; bear right to stay on Route 110 at Harvard Center; and, turn right onto Still River Depot Road at the Still River Post Office. The refuge parking area is at the end of Still River Depot Road. Please use Still River as the town instead of Harvard for GPS navigation.

    • Click here to access an ONWR Recreation and Trail Guide pdf created by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Friends of Oxbow NWR. The Guide provides information on trails, parking, and launch sites.

 

  • Hospital Road/Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge Launch (Devens)

    • From the U.S. FWS: From Massachusetts Route 2, take Exit 37B north on Jackson Road toward Devens; go through the traffic light and make a left on Givry Street; bear to the left onto Hospital Road; after passing by New England Studios, either make your first left into the Bill Ashe Visitor Facility parking lot or make your second left.

    • A Nashua River canoe and kayak dock and launch are located a couple hundred feet from the Visitor Center, and is accessed by a dirt parking lot that can facilitate approximately 10 cars. The Visitor Center parking lot can accommodate additional cars. Although the dock and launch are handicapped accessible, the stairs down to the dock are not.

  • Petapawag Boat Launch (Groton)

    • Located on Nod Road in Groton, it is just 100 feet north of Route 119. This is a public boat ramp to the Pepperell Pond area of the Nashua River – the impounded reach above the Pepperell Dam. This is a state-installed concrete ramp that can accommodate motorized boats, canoes and kayaks. A car-top only boat launch is located across the river from Petapawag. 

  • Rt. 117/Seven Bridge Road Launch (Lancaster)

  • North Main Street Launch; Pellechia Canoe Launch; Main Street Bridge Launch (Lancaster MA)

  • Rt. 119 Car-top Only Launch; Marion Stoddart Conservation Area Canoe Launch; Canal Street Launch; Downstream of Pepperell Dam Launch (Pepperell)

  • Walker Road Upstream of Ayer Ice House Dam Launch; Walker Road Downstream of Ayer Ice House Dam Launch (Shirley)

  • To rent canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards 

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Boating & Sailing

 
The Nashua River is not accessible by sailboats. 
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Fishing

 

To learn more about fishing in the Nashua River watershed, click here for NRWA's webpage. For a an interactive map of fishing locations on the Nashua, click here.

Other useful resources: