Hiking and Walking in the Nashua River Watershed
Ashburnham lies in the higher elevations at the western border of our watershed. The topography includes mountains, rushing streams, and over twenty lakes, which all add up to fresh air and scenic hiking trails. Part of the Wapack Range, the jewel of Ashburnham’s crown is Mt. Watatic (elevation: 1,832 feet), the last undeveloped mountain east of the Connecticut River. With its unwooded double summit, hikers have views of the Nashua River watershed to the east, Mt. Wachusett to the south, and Mt. Monadnock to the north—even the Boston skyline or Mt. Greylock on a clear day. This is a starting point for both the Wapack Trail and the Massachusetts Midstate Trail.
The Lake Wampanoag Wildlife Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon property, offers 390 acres with field and woodland trails where hikers may see moose, bobcat, bear, as well as a large variety of songbirds, raptors, and butterflies. Lake Wampanoag flows into the Whitman River, a headwater stream of the North Nashua River.
Other hiking options in Ashburnham include the Ashburnham State Forest consisting of 1,500 acres adjacent to Mt. Watatic and including Little Watatic Mountain; the Massachusetts Midstate Trail to the top of Mt. Hunger with lovely views over Stodgemeadow Pond; and the MA Fish and Wildlife’s 2000+ acre High Ridge Wildlife Management Area
Ashby is located in Massachusetts along the border of New Hampshire in the western reaches of the watershed. Much like its neighbor Ashburnham, Ashby is characterized by high elevations that are the location of numerous important tributaries to the Nashua River. Jewel and Blood Hills are the some of the key elevations, and 170 acres of Blood Hill are currently protected for conservation purposes.
Mt. Watatic is partially located in Ashby, as well as Ashburnham. This shared treasure has trails that lead to an unwooded double summit with views of the Nashua River watershed to the east. Mt. Watatic is also a starting point for both the Wapack Trail and the Massachusetts Midstate Trail.
Willard Brook State Forest has 2,597 acres of protected land monitored by the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation. One highlight in this park is Trap Falls, a pristine, natural waterfall created as Trapfall Brook tumbles down about 40 feet over bedrock and boulders. There is a wooden footbridge at the base of the falls that allows a full view of the falls from both sides of the brook. The flow over the falls is particularly spectacular during spring runoff or after abundant rainfall.
Ashby State Wildlife Area has two parcels of land totaling 583 acres of mostly hilly terrain with variations in elevation of more than 250 feet.
The Nashua River runs along the western border of Ayer. One of the main attractions along the length of the river is the Nashua River Rail Trail. This 12-mile trail begins in Ayer and travels through the watershed towns of Groton, Pepperell, and Dunstable, and into Nashua, New Hampshire. Walkers, cyclists, inline skaters, and cross-country skiers can park in Ayer and travel a portion, or the full length, of this scenic paved path.
The Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge surrounds the Nashua River and is partially located in Ayer. It encompasses over 1,700 acres along 8 miles of the Nashua River. A hiking trail at the entrance passes through five types of habitat with interactive guides available at the site kiosk. The Oxbow is also perfect for cross-country skiing, photography, and birding, with wading birds, waterfowl, raptors, and shorebirds.
Another major conservation area in Ayer is the Pine Meadow Conservation Area located on Groton-Harvard Road. This 129-acre forested area is used for hiking, picnicking, and horseback riding. Several trails have completed by the Ayer Greenway Committee featuring a short walk to a pond and wetland area, and a longer trail through nearby woods.
The Nashua River marks the western boundaries of the town of Bolton. The town offers a wealth of recreational opportunities on over 2,000 acres of conservation land. This land includes local holdings, as well as both state and federal land. View a complete list of conservation land in Bolton.
Bolton Flats is a 455-acre property owned by the State which serves as an important flood plain along the Nashua River. The site is widely known as a primary habitat for migratory birds. It offers many recreational activities such as canoeing, bird watching, fishing, and hiking.
Bowers Springs, located in Bolton and Harvard, is one of Bolton’s most popular conservation areas and features scenic ponds, flat grassy fields and trails connecting to the Vaughn Hill/Hansen conservation areas. The Vaughn Hill Core Conservation Area is 187 acres, and includes one of the highest elevation areas between Boston and Wachusett Mountain. It offers panoramic mountain vistas as well as trails that traverse pine forests, follow creeks and streams, with views of beaver dams, ponds, and open meadows.
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Bolton Conservation Trust
The town of Boylston formed as an agricultural community with mills powered by the South Nashua River. In the early 1900’s, mill operations ended when the South Nashua River was dammed to create the Wachusett Reservoir to provide drinking water for Boston. Over 4,000 acres in total, the Wachusett Reservoir is the second largest body of water in the Commonwealth. The reservoir covers approximately 18.5% of the land in Boylston. Because it is a source of drinking water, public access in the area is monitored; however, the Department of Conservation and Recreation manages recreational areas that offer hiking and walking trails, bird watching, snowshoeing, scenic views, picnicking, and excellent fishing for brown trout, landlocked salmon, smallmouth bass, and white perch.
The Falby Memorial Forest is 194-acre property that was donated to the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) in 1980. A forest of hardwood with some mature pines, the site also has small brooks that run through the forest and lead to a clear pond. There are walking trails on this property that leave Rocky Pond Road on the south end of the forest. This property connects with another NEFF propery, the 15-acre Minacapelli Forest. The 7-acre Fawcett Forest is also managed by NEFF and consists of approximately three hundred feet of shoreline on Rocky Pond.
The Tower Hill Botanic Garden is run by the Worcester County Horticultural Society on 132 acres of land in Boylston. The gardens include those organized by botanic family, 119 varieties of heirloom apples, and the Orangerie, which is filled with tropical plants all winter. The garden also offers the Wildlife Refuge Pond and a network of woodland trails.
Brookline is a wooded community on the southern border of New Hampshire. The town's highest point is the western summit of Birch Hill, at 810 feet above sea level. The headwaters for the ten-mile-long Nissitissit River, a major tributary of the Nashua River, are at Lake Potanipo in Brookline. The Nissitissit is known for as a high-quality trout fishing stream.
A unique recreational opportunity in our watershed, The Andres Institute of Art in Brookline offers a combination of trails and art. Located on Big Bear Mountain, the 140-acre park has over fifty works of art on several miles of trails and is free and open to the public year round.
The town of Brookline has hundreds of acres of conservation land that are open for hiking. Two particularly nice properties are the Bartell-Palmer Conservation Land, a 426-acre property connecting Brookline and Milford, New Hampshire, and the Hobart Fessenden Woods, a 310-acre area tract. Both properties offer miles of trails to be explored. View a full map of the conservation land in Brookline.
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Town of Brookline
The community of Clinton sits at the northern end of the Wachusett Reservoir, part of the community having been flooded by the building of the dam in the early 1900’s. The South Nashua River flows from the base of the Wachusett Dam in Clinton, north to its confluence with the mainstem river in Lancaster.
The Wachusett Reservoir, the second largest body of water in the Commonwealth and largest body of open water in the watershed, provides drinking water for the Boston metropolitan area. The lands surrounding the Reservoir are monitored due to its status as a water supply, but they provide ample opportunities for walking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and shore fishing.
The town of Clinton owns several lovely properties for hiking. The Maffei Conservation Area consists of 26 acres of wetlands and fields bordering a portion of the proposed Mass Central Rail Trail (accessed via 220 Berlin Street). The Nashua River Conservation Area, just north of Water Street Bridge in Clinton, owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the town, offers trails that follow the Nashua River and climb a ridgeline with view of the Nashua River valley from the top of the bluff.
Also town-owned, Rauscher Farm Conservation Area is a 62-acre property that was originally a working farm. It now offers walking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing across pastures, woodlands, and wetland areas. A section of the property also borders the shoreline of Clamshell Pond and allows access to fishing and boating opportunities there.
Another popular series of ponds in Clinton include South Meadow, Coachlace, and Mossy Ponds. The Department of Fish & Wildlife owns 17-acres of land on Mossy Pond Peninsula, while the Clinton Greenway Conservation Trust owns a small parcel that borders South Meadow Pond.
Devens is a planned community, having previously served as a military base (Ft. Devens) beginning in World War I. Centered along the mainstream Nashua River, Devens offers plentiful recreation opportunities on nearly 1,700 acres of open space.
Mirror Lake is a popular recreation property. The lake is a kettle hole, a deep pond that formed when the last glaciers covering New England slowly melted away. Mirror Lake Recreation Area offers swimming, non-motorized boating, and fishing. There are also hiking trails and picnic tables.
Nearby to Mirror Lake is the Black Spruce Bog, an unusual ecosystem with a vegetated floating mat surrounded by a moat. Also of interest are The Eskers, geologic formations also left behind by glacial activity. These areas, together with Little Mirror Lake, are home to a diversity of plant and animal life.
A simple place for a picnic and short walk is Robbins Pond, just off Barnum Road. Unlike Mirror Lake, Robbins Pond is shallow offering a great place to watch geese, ducks, and other waterfowl.
The Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge is partially located in Devens. It encompasses over 1,700 acres along eight miles of the Nashua River. A hiking trail at the entrance passes through five types of habitat with interactive guides available at the site kiosk. The Oxbow is also perfect for cross-country skiing, photography, and birding.
A unique recreational opportunity in Devens is its community disk golf course through forested land.
Dunstable lies along the northeastern border of our watershed. It's a small rural community with historic homes, and lovely farm and conservation properties. An outstanding property for hiking and walking is the nearly 400-acre Dunstable Rural Land Trust Wildlife Preserve. The Preserve provides trails through old-growth forest, along very active beaver ponds and open meadows. This wildlife preserve links to the Nashua River Rail Trail. The paved Rail Trail travels 11 miles between Ayer and Nashua, New Hampshire. The trail section in Dunstable has views of the Nashua River. It's open for walking, biking, cross country skiing, with an adjacent equestrian path for horseback riding that runs as far south as Groton center.
Flat Rock Hill Conservation Area and the adjacent Arched Bridge Conservation Area cover 425 acres with about 4.5 miles of woodland trails. A 1.5 mile rail trail runs through Arched Bridge Conservation Area to Main Street in Dunstable. The area is named after a beautiful granite bridge over Salmon Brook. Other trails connect to the adjacent Flat Rock Hill Conservation Area. Dunstable Rural Land Trust properties welcome dogs. Along with hiking opportunities, many properties also offer access to the Nashua River for canoeing and kayaking.
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The North Nashua River winds for 7.5 miles through the heart of the City of Fitchburg, the focal point of early settlers and later the source of power for the building of the mill industry in the City. As a river within an urban setting, it offers great opportunities for open space and recreation for city residents and visitors alike.
The 4.15 acre Steamline Trail Park features a ¾-mile riverside walking trail with scenic views of the North Nashua River and Flag Brook. This unique trail reminds hikers of the city's historic link to the river as it begins at the old Central Steam Plant and follows alongside the pipes that once powered Fitchburg mills.
Gateway Park, opened in fall of 2011, is a 12-acre riverfront park located on Sheldon Street. The park is a "gateway" to the North Nashua River and the City's historic mill district. Visitors will enjoy a variety of recreational spaces including community gardens, picnic and play areas, walking paths, and a performance area.
The Crocker Conservation Area, a North County Land Trust property, offers hikers 150-acres surrounding Overlook Reservoir to explore. Over 5 miles of trails traverse the area and link to the adjacent Flat Rock Sanctuary owned by Mass Audubon. Flat Rock consists of over 300 acres of mostly wooded habitat with six miles of trails as well as some rock climbing. Flat Rock, the summit of the trail, has an elevation of 950 feet. Hikers will have a sense of wilderness while only minutes away from the City.
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The city of Gardner sits in the higher elevations on the western border of the watershed. There are a number of lakes in Gardner creating scenic settings for hiking and other outdoor activities. Dunn State Park is a 130-acre park featuring walking trails and picnicking. Swimming, fishing, and paddling are allowed on the 20-acre pond. The winter season brings access to cross country skiing and ice skating on the pond. The park advertises that it keeps a fire blazing in the visitor's center fireplace. And this park is completely handicapped accessible.
Lake Wampanoag Wildlife Sanctuary, a Mass Audubon property, offers 390 acres with field and woodland trails where hikers may see moose, bobcat, bear, as well as a large variety of songbirds, raptors, and butterflies. Lake Wampanoag flows into the Whitman River, a headwater stream of the North Nashua River.
High Ridge Wildlife Management Area, managed by the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation, has more than 2,000 acres of habitat for wildlife designated as a Watchable Wildlife Viewing Area. This area includes a variety of terrain, from fields, wetlands and open meadows to steep hillsides. Watch for grassland nesting birds like woodcock, grouse, and pheasant. The overall expanse of undisturbed habitat also provides range for large mammals, such as moose and bear.
Be sure to check out the North Central Pathway. When completed, this roughly 16 mile paved trail will link Gardner and Winchendon centers. The wooded trail offers views of Crystal Lake and Whitney Pond, with wooden bridge crossings over the Millers River and other streams. The trail is open to walking, biking, cross country skiing, and other non-motorized activities.
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The town of Groton has river access to both the main stem of the Nashua River and the Squannacook River, and is home to the NRWA's headquarters, our River Resource Center. With nearly 25% of the town land held in conservation, there are over 100 miles of trails.
Not to be missed on a trip to Groton is the climb to the top of Gibbet Hill, and if time allows, neighboring Angus Hill. The two drumlins, privately owned but protected by conservation restriction, allow public access to 250 acres. Hikers can enjoy views of the working Gibbet Hill Farm, the "castle" (old stone sanitarium) ruins, and magnificent views of the surrounding area from the top of hill.
Another local favorite is Groton Place, a 54-acre site with 1,800 feet of frontage on the east side of the Nashua River. A massive old brick and granite entrance gateway with graceful iron gates bears a carved granite sign proclaiming this to be a "Wild Life Sanctuary for The Benefit and Pleasure of the People of Groton". The property, owned and managed by the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), is a former estate featuring open fields and river vistas, broad trails, and the "Rhododendron Trail" that offers a spectacular display in July each year. A short distance past the entrance, the view opens to an 11-acre field with a "pine island" in the middle. This is where dog walkers love to let their dogs have a good run or meet as play groups. From the paths at Groton Place, walkers can also reach NEFF's 146-acre Sabine Woods property. NEFF owns hundreds of additional acres of forest land in Groton that are open for hiking, birdwatching, and cross country skiing including Wharton Plantation (736 acres), Kemp Woods (85 acres) and the lovely Phoebe R. Keyes Woods which links town-owned forest, the Groton School forest, and two Foundation Forests, covering over 550 acres.
The J. Harry Rich State Forest, accessed from Nod Road, is another popular place to walk. This land along the Nashua River is a wooded with broad level trails for easy walking. It offers excellent views of the river and surrounding area as it winds along the banks. A portion of the Nashua River Rail Trail passes through the Forest. Horseback riding is allowed in the Forest, and there is an equestrian trail adjacent to the Rail Trail.
Groton Conservation Trust and the Groton Conservation Commission own over 100 properties that are open to the public for exploration. Visitors can enjoy woodlands, wetlands, fields, river views, orchards, and hilltop views. Groton has an active Trails Committee that runs the Groton Trail Network to connect people with the vast trail system in Groton. Birdwatchers will enjoy The General Fields, 160 acres of agricultural fields, and the adjacent Surrenden Farm which runs to the banks of the Nashua River. Hikers can enjoy field, woodland, and riverine habitat, as well as views west across the Nashua River valley. Another interesting cluster of properties are Mason Back 100, Gamlin Crystal Spring Conservation Area, and the Bruner Land all located off Old Dunstable Road. These properties are rich in habitat from bogs to meadows to rocky outcroppings, as well as rich in history with historic cart paths, stone cellars, and stone boundary markers.
For views of the Squannacook River, level trails, and opportunities for wildlife sightings, visit the Squannacook River Wildlife Management Area in West Groton. Managed by MA Fish & Wildlife, the Area has extensive frontage along this scenic river. A refreshing place for a walk in the summer.
Groton Conservation Trust Property Maps
Groton Trails Network Maps
Nashua River Rail Trail
Phoebe R. Keyes Woods
Squannacook River Wildlife Management Area
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West Boylston, MA
Water has played a large role in shaping the town of West Boylston. Located in the eastern sections of the watershed at the junction of the Quinapoxet, Stillwater and Nashua rivers, the town is home to 2,200 acres of the Wachusett Reservoir which provides drinking water for Boston and the metropolitan area. The Wachusett Dam in Clinton flooded the Nashua River creating the reservoir the late 1890's. The Wachusett Reservoir is the largest body of open water in the Nashua River watershed.
The Wachusett Reservoir and the surrounding watershed are managed by the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC). Walking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and shore fishing are allowed in West Boylston. There are miles of woods roads south of Route 110 in West Boylston and Boylston.
Another very popular recreational spot in West Boylston is the Mass Central Rail Trail which runs alongside the scenic Quinapoxet River in the area where the Quinapoxet meets the Stillwater River to form the south branch of the Nashua River. The trail passes under the dramatic I-190 bridge over the Quinapoxet and goes on to the historic Springdale Mill site in Holden, where you can take a self-guided tour of the mill ruins. The town also offers a wide array of other biking routes around the rivers, reservoir and surrounding area.
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