Open a faucet and out comes water; clean water. We take water for granted even though it is one of our most precious resources and what we lose or destroy cannot be replaced.
Founded in 1969, the Nashua River Watershed Association was formed so that the Nashua River (which affects both the underground and on the ground water supplies for 31 communities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire) would be cleaned of its toxicity and then maintained as a fresh water supply. This original mission has not only succeeded but has been deepened and augmented by the management of critical areas that affect not only this river and our water resources, but the surrounding landscapes of 31 communities encompassing 538 square miles and the drinking water for over 1 million people.
These communities are; Ashburnham, Ashby, Ayer, Bolton, Boylston, Brookline, Clinton, Dunstable, Fitchburg, Gardner, Greenville, Groton, Harvard, Holden, Hollis, Lancaster, Leominster, Lunenburg, Mason, Milford, Nashua, New Ipswich, Paxton, Pepperell, Princeton, Rutland, Shirley, Sterling, Townsend, West Boylston and Westminster.
The river is almost 38 miles long and it is fed from and it feeds many streams, brooks and ponds in each of these towns, including, Boers Brook, Grove Pond, Plow Shop Pond, Willow Brook, Walker Brook, Bare Hill Pond, Flannagan Pond, Grove Pond, Mirror Lake and Robbins Pond.
The Nashaway Indian tribe once lived within the Nashua River valley, replaced by European settlers who, instead of solely harvesting from the river, made the river work for them to grind grains and then move sawn lumber and then to harness its power in many manufacturing enterprises such as paper, textiles and leather products. By the 1950s the river was exhausted: polluted, smelly and unsightly. The danger lay not only in the toxicity polluting this water resource but in damaging the massive ecosystems teaming with wildlife and beauty.
The Nashua River Watershed Association, headed by Executive Director Elizabeth Ainsley Campbell, is a nonprofit organization and the recipient of three EPA awards, a presidential citation, and a special mention from the United Nations and commendation from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt.
It takes about $600,000 a year to operate this Association and it does so with two full-time staffers plus 11 part-timers. There are two AmeriCorps staffers involved for the coming years. Thirteen board members are at the helm including lifetime member and one of the founding incorporators Marion Stoddart from Groton. Funds come from a multiple group of sources including memberships, donations, local, state and federal grants, and gifts and donations from businesses and individuals.
According to its website, which is extensive and makes for fascinating reading, the Association’s goals have been crafted with the input of all 31 communities including planning boards, conservation commissions and interested citizens. The mission’s focus includes: restore and protect water quality for humans, fish and other wildlife; conserve open space around water resources to improve its quality, wildlife habitat and their migration corridors, forests and recreation spaces; encourage careful land use with well-planned development to preserve native American sacred sites and prime farm land, soil and scenic quality.
On Friday evening, Nov. 12, the Association held their annual meeting and dinner at the Devens Common Center. The 2010 Land and Conservation Award was given to Hollis’ Jeff P. Smith (posthumously) and presented by Marion Stoddart and accepted by his daughter Shirley Smith Cohen, who beamed with pleasure at the memory of her dad and gratefully accepted the wooden plaque, which had a carved canoe.
The Environmental Education Award was presented to Ellie Horwitz for her many contributions to educating and engaging children of all ages while introducing them to the wonders of nature and their world.
The keynote speaker was William Waterway Marks, contributor to National Geographic’s “Written in Water: Message of Hope For the World’s Most Precious Resource.” His brief but compelling eloquence was highlighted by his rendition of two haunting flute melodies, one played on a small narrow bone from an eagle’s wing, the other from a wooden Indian styled flute. Each solo mimicked both a bird’s flight and the rush of water. “What is the purpose of us being here?” he asked the crowd of 140. “We are here for a limited time and our choices make our journey.”
The River Resources Center is located in Groton near the Nashua River and the Petapawag Canoe launch and and it’s the home of many family friendly programs. There are nature displays and an auditorium for meetings and programs, many of them family friendly. Sign up online to receive program notices. On Friday, Nov. 19, a nocturnal nature walk at Groton’s Williams barn (160 Chicopee Row) is being provided for families beginning at 6:30. Sign up to participate.
For information, visit www.nashuariverwatershed.org, call 978-448-0299, or stop by 592 Main St., Groton.