By Anne O'Connor

aoconnor@nashobavalleyvoice.com

GROTON -- Happenings in Washington D.C. can seem far removed from day-to-day life in central Massachusetts.

They are not, according to local environmentalists. It takes a mosaic of federal, state and local agencies to oversee the well-being of the planet.

The work of local advocates makes a huge difference.

If it wasn't for the work of folks on the ground and new government standards, the Nashua River might still be dead, with sewer worms the only life-form that could survive.

Marion Stoddart spearheaded the process of cleaning up the Nashua River.

The waterway was choked with sewerage, paper pulp, chemicals and garbage when she and her young family moved to Groton.

"It's true. I have devoted much of my life to community organizing," she said. In the 1960s people spoke out about the things that concerned them. For Stoddart, one of those things was the environment.

"In 1962, the dump was the river," said the founder of the Nashua River Watershed Association. Trash day meant going to an area off Nod Road, backing up to the water and heaving the trash out.

Now, thanks to decades of work by Stoddart and 1,000 others, a nearby area is a canoe launch. The trash and stench is gone. The river is a lovely place to spend time.


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How did the river change from a dumping group to a naturalist's destination?

"It's just bringing people together who share the same interests and concerns to make it happen," she said.

She met with like-minded folks. She met with factory owners, residents, municipal and state officials.

"They were willing to do their share and pay their cost," Stoddart said. "It was very important to make sure things were fair."

That's where state and federal actions came in.

Environmental regulations put in place in the 1960s and 1970s across the state and nation put all polluters on a level playing field.

Companies did move from the area after new regulations were in place, but not because of the clean water regulations. They were the same across the country.

More than one industrialist told Stoddart the plant closings were economically necessary. Other regions of the country were closer to natural resources and had cheaper labor.

Stoddart's list of the politicians who furthered her cause is a who's who of American history. "It's really a non-partisan issue," she said. Democrats and Republicans all helped make a difference.

Stewart Udall, who was named secretary of the interior under President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, helped get the ball rolling for the clean air and water acts that were passed under Republican President Richard M. Nixon.

On the state level, local activists first worked with Endicott Peabody, a democratic governor, Stoddart said. "Working with Chub, it was wonderful."

Peabody, a Democrat, had strong Groton ties. His grandfather, also Endicott Peabody, founded Groton School, just down the road from the Stoddart home.

The river is healthy and the community organizing done by the Nashua River Watershed Association is educational. It aims to make the Nashua River and its tributaries valued by the youngest residents.

Over 3,000 children get out on the river each year through the NRWA's education outreach, she said. "We're bringing up a whole group of citizens who really love the river and will protect it."

Stoddart, who will be 89 this spring, continues to work to improve the watershed. On her wish list is creating a greenway, with a 300-foot setback along the banks and walking paths on both sides of the Nashua River.

She also meets with a committee that is working on getting parts of the river included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The program "encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection," according to www.rivers.gov.

Federal and state agencies remain part of the picture ensuing a healthy environment. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency creates the regulations enforcing the Clean Water Act, It also does scientific research and provides grant money.

The current presidential administration may attempt to make significant cuts to the agency's budget and staff, according to an interview with Myron Ebell, the former head of President Donald Trump's transition team with the Associated Press.

The Nashua River Watershed Association does not currently have any grants from the EPA, said Elizabeth Ainsley Campbell, executive director of the NRWA.

"Were funding to change in the future, it would definitely affect us," she said. The EPA does a lot of research that smaller groups cannot undertake.

Stoddart has some words of wisdom on dealing with activities on the national level. "If everyone in the country were to focus on their locality, then everything would be protected," she said. "It isn't just hope. We have to work."

"I think we have a few leaders to educate," Stoddart said.

One of the easiest things that local people could do is contribute to the effort to create the greenway along the Nashua River, she said. The website for the NRWA is www.nashuariverwatershed.org.

Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.