Butterfly garden at JR Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham - photo by Gaynor Bigelbach

Native or Invasive? Learning to Nurture Local Ecosystems

Year-long projects in two schools, J.R. Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham and Turkey Hill Middle School in Lunenburg, led students to explore the value of local ecosystems. Both projects, funded by Massachusetts Cultural Council STARS Residencies grants, provided for multiple classroom visits and outdoor lessons with NRWA educators in partnership with classroom teachers.

In Ashburnham, third and fifth grade students used the school's butterfly garden as an outdoor classroom where they studied bird identification; bird adaptations, such as the way a bird's beak is shaped perfectly for its diet; and the engineering concepts displayed in animal-designed structures, like bird nests, spider webs, and climbing plants. As part of this project, the students designed and built natural structures for the garden, including toad houses, bird feeders, butterfly "puddle" troughs (where butterflies can extract minerals from the soil), natural fencing, and stone markers for the pathways. At the end of the year, the students' design & field study drawings were on display for the public, along with their enhancements to the garden, all of which were meant to encourage native species to flourish.

In Lunenburg, fifth grade students studied invasive Asian Bittersweet, Multiflora Rose, and Japanese Knotweed in their schoolyard. Their project involved learning to identify these invasives and studying their impact on native ecosystems. The students were given a broad spectrum of art forms to express to their community the need to address the issue of invasive plant damage - song, play, poster, comic strip, or poetry—with a display at the Lunenburg Town Hall.

Thank you to the Massachusetts Cultural Council for making these projects made possible through their STARS Residencies grants.


Turkey Hill Middle School posters:

Free the ForestHealthy Tree posterSave the Trees poster




Early evening on the Nashua River - photo by Cedwyn Morgan

2015 River Report Card

Our volunteer monitors have been collecting and analyzing samples for the past three months. Their most recent sampling day was Saturday, June 20th. The lack of rain and low stream flows were evident in the monitoring results for June (ahead of rains on Father's Day Sunday and storms on June 23rd). With low flow, we see higher temperatures and lower dissolved oxygen levels. We also see conductivity up at almost all sites (less flow, more ions concentrated in the water). We did see an increase in E.coli at many sites, but not as much as would have been seen if sampling had been done after the steady rains on Sunday. The next monitoring date is Saturday, July 18th.

View 2015 River Report Card. Note that the Report opens on the E.coli worksheet, but you can scroll through to the other data worksheets (temp/DO, etc.) at the bottom of the page.

Do you have questions, or would you like more information? Contact Martha Morgan, NRWA Water Programs Director (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) or Kathryn Nelson, NRWA Water Monitoring Coordinator (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ).



Nashua River in Harvard MA - photo by Kristopher Kvenvold

Protecting Harvard's Waterways: NRWA to Expand Water Monitoring in Harvard

Did you know that the 10-mile stretch of the Nashua River which runs through Harvard, including the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge (Oxbow NWR), is state-listed as impaired by E.coli bacteria? Are you aware that at least one invasive water chestnut plant was removed from that same stretch of river last year? The NRWA will be expanding its efforts to address these issues beginning this summer as part of its project, "Protecting Our Waterways: Aquatic Invasive Surveys and Bacterial Testing in Harvard and the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge," with funding from the Foundation for MetroWest.

The NRWA currently monitors water quality and stream conditions at one location on Bowers Brook, with sampling once per month over seven months each season. As part of this project, monitoring will be expanded with two to three additional sites in Harvard and at the Oxbow NWR, and samples will be collected weekly during the months of July and August.  The results will be used to create a "River Report Card" that will be posted on NRWA's website, shared with local papers, town and state officials, and the Oxbow NWR. The information will also be used to post alerts to notify the public when water conditions do not meet swimming or boating standards.

Additionally, the NRWA will undertake an aquatic invasives survey of river reaches in Harvard and the Oxbow NWR, hand pulling any water chestnut plants that are located. Early hand removal of individual plants is vital to prevent the aggressive spread of this plant that is responsible for the current 90-acre infestation of the Nashua River in the Pepperell and Groton area. Local residents may be aware of similar efforts undertaken on Bare Hill Pond. NRWA will work cooperatively with the Friends of the Oxbow, and information garnered from the survey will be shared with the Oxbow NWR and the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex, strengthening capacity to undertake a regional approach to water chestnuts.

As part of this project, the NRWA will be looking for volunteers in Harvard to assist with stream monitoring and invasive surveying and removal. Educational presentations will also be made to the public, the first being "Protecting Harvard's Waterways" on March 26th at 7:00 p.m. in Volunteers Hall at the Harvard Public Library.  The public is invited to attend this free presentation to learn more about this project and opportunities for volunteer participation.

Established in 1995, the Foundation for MetroWest is the only community foundation serving the 33 cities and towns in the MetroWest region, connecting the philanthropic interests of donors with demonstrated need in the areas of Family Support, Arts & Culture, Environment and Youth Development. The Foundation has granted over $9 million to charitable organizations and currently stewards more than $15 million in charitable assets for current needs and future impact. Learn more about the Foundation for MetroWest. 

To learn more about this NRWA project, the presentation on March 26th, or to volunteer, please contact Kathryn Nelson, NRWA's Water Monitoring Coordinator, at (978) 448-0299, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .     



Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Act Press Conference - photo by Carolyn Perkins

Congresswoman Tsongas Announces Passage of the Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Act

GROTON – On Monday, January 12, 2015, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas will host an event to celebrate the passage and signing into law of the Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Act at the office of the Nashua River Watershed Association in Groton. Tsongas will be joined by local officials and local conservation organizations and advocates.

Congresswoman Tsongas authored and introduced the legislation and shepherded the bill through the legislative process, securing support from the Republican leadership to ensure its passage. The bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in December and signed into law by President Obama.

The Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Act will take steps toward protecting the Nashua River, authorizing the National Park Service (NPS) to advance the process for giving the Nashua River and two of its tributaries, the Squannacook and Nissitissit Rivers, a federal protection designation.

The legislation has been endorsed by eight towns through which the Nashua runs in Massachusetts: Lancaster, Harvard, Shirley, Ayer, Groton, Dunstable, Pepperell, and Townsend.

"The history and development of the towns and cities in the 3rd District of Massachusetts has been defined by the many rivers that course through these unique communities. The study initiated by this bill will allow the National Park Service, the Watershed Association, and local governments and stakeholders to work together in forming a plan to protect the Nashua River and ensure that it remains a central part of life and growth in our region," said Congresswoman Tsongas.

Tsongas is a member of the Natural Resources Committee and has worked to preserve and protect the rivers and waterways in the Third Congressional District. She hosts an annual River Day to highlight the importance of the Rivers in the communities she represents and to recognize the organizations, volunteers and different levels of government working together to sustain and preserve the integrity of these resources.