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Pepperell conservation land named after respected environmental steward

Longtime conservation activist saluted with 18 acres of land named in her honor

Linn Clark, left, Marion Stoddart and Ken Hartlage at the newly-named Marion Stoddart Conservation Area in Pepperell.
Linn Clark, left, Marion Stoddart and Ken Hartlage at the newly-named Marion Stoddart Conservation Area in Pepperell.

PEPPERELL — An inviting dirt road off River Road will lead visitors to a pristine view of tall trees, animal footprints and the glistening Nashua River on the side. A lot of that land, 18 acres of it to be exact, is now dedicated to the woman who has been fighting to protect that land for 50 years: Marion Stoddart.

The Nashoba Conservation Trust earlier this month named the scenic parcel after the 91-year-old Groton resident, who co-founded the Nashua River Watershed Association and whose reputation for protecting the environment has been recognized by the United Nations.

The land is located near a newly-restored canoe/kayak launch site and was recently acquired by the trust and developer Al Patenaude in accordance with Pepperell’s Open Space Residential Development bylaw.

Not only did Stoddart co-found the NRWA in 1969, but she also helped organize the original effort to clean-up Nashua River in 1962.

Ken Hartlage, president of the NCT, said last Friday that the trust follows Stoddart’s original vision by protecting the land surrounding both the Nashua and Nissitissit rivers to ensure its wildlife and the water quality remains intact.

“This has been an ongoing effort with the Nashoba Conservation Trust since its inception,” he added. “This is the latest iteration of it, these 18 acres that we protected. Because it was right on the Nashua River, we felt it was very befitting to honor Marion’s work and conservation of the last 50 years by naming it after her.”

Stoddart’s efforts have resulted in numerous community members volunteering to protect the land from development and pollution, eventually leading to Nashua River being protected under the Natural Resources Management Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in February and then signed by President Donald Trump in March.

Stoddart remembers first walking on the land in the 1960s and, 50 years later, says the work she set out to accomplish is not quite finished yet. Her goal is linkage, completing the green way along the Nashua River and the tributaries connecting it to the Nissitissit River.

She also sees the benefits of protecting the wildlife for the environment, keeping up trees to sequester carbon, growing natural vegetation to serve as a buffer from pollution and provide a recreation option for the public.

“Now that people are becoming more and more concerned about climate change, they’re realizing the importance of maintaining our forest land,” Stoddart said. “People say, ‘Oh what a great job, thank you.’ And I always say, ‘The job is never done!’ We need more help, so people are thinking about what has been done and not so much about what more needs to be done. We need this continuous land protected for all the reasons we’ve talked about.”

Stoddart also noted the efforts of other conservation organizations in other towns working collaboratively to preserve natural land. She’s been involved in the protection of 200 miles of land, and she says she’s only “50 percent done.”

“I’m 91-years-old now and I want this to be done during my lifetime, so we don’t have a lot of time left. We really need to speed up the process.”