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Recognized locally for their efforts in restoring sections of the Nashua, Squannacook and Nissitissit rivers to their previously pristine condition, local communities are in contention to receive federal recognition and funds to continue their work.

That would happen if Town Meetings in Ayer, Bolton, Dunstable, Groton, Harvard, Lancaster, Pepperell, Shirley and Townsend vote to seek designation as “Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers.” It covers segments of the Nashua River from Lancaster to the New Hampshire border, and its two main tributaries, the Nissitissit and Squannacook.

These nine communities have been participating with Hollis and Brookline, New Hampshire, as part of a Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Committee to explore that eventuality by developing a voluntary Stewardship Plan.

A locally appointed Stewardship Council would be eligible to receive annual federal funding and technical assistance to implement the voluntary River Stewardship Plan. The three rivers then would be protected from adverse federal projects, including new dams.

There’s no cost. There’s no federal taking of land. There’s no impact on hunting and fishing. The designation does not stop local development, nor does it affect local zoning and property rights; it also doesn’t require landowners to provide access to their property.

Only rivers with “outstandingly remarkable resource values” — including biological diversity, recreational and scenic qualities, and historical and cultural attributes — can be considered. Only one-quarter of 1 percent of waterways in the United States have measured up to this lofty standard, established by Congress 50 years ago with the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

We believe the Nashua River Watershed and the association that bears its name has a legitimate chance to earn this rare award. It’s a credit to the pioneering efforts of Marion Stoddart, Nashua River Watershed Executive Director Elizabeth Ainsley Campbell. Since arriving in Groton in the early 1960s, Stoddart, who’ll be 90 this spring, has championed the campaign to Improve the Nashua River and watershed, which encompasses 538 square miles in North Central Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.

If approved at the town meetings, Congress must pass legislation awarding the designation.

We urge the nine Massachusetts towns to accept the voluntary Stewardship Plan and its recommendation to seek the Wild and Scenic designation.

Residents can learn more about the Wild and Scenic project at www.WildandScenicNashuaRivers.org.

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