GREAT MEADOWS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge encompasses more than 3,800 acres with two units of land in seven historically significant towns—Billerica, Bedford, Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland. Approximately 85 percent of its area is composed of freshwater wetlands stretching along 12 miles of the Sudbury and Concord Rivers. Protected and managed as a nesting, resting and feeding habitat for wildlife, Great Meadows NWR places a special emphasis on migratory birds.
Great Meadows NWR has a long history with stone artifacts found in its vicinity dating back to 5500 B.C. Through the centuries its waters have been a source of food with fish and wildlife along the river meadows. Named Musketahquid, meaning grassy banks, by Native Americans and the Great River Meadows by settlers, the area provided a means of livelihood and transportation. With industrialization in the 19th century, a mill dam was built in Billerica, causing the river’s waters to rise, extending into the Meadows. Increasingly inhabited by more waterfowl, its value for hunting and fishing was recognized by Samuel Hoar, who purchased a part of the Meadows in 1928. In 1944 he donated 250 acres of the Meadows to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, establishing the refuge. In efforts to further protect the area, the Service began acquiring additional land during the 1960s.
Currently a major wildlife management project is underway to control exotic plants such as purple loosestrife and water chestnut, a green plant that carpets open water. Out-competing native vegetation and with little to no wildlife value, several methods of control have been instituted, with a combination of several approaches meeting with some success.
A favorite stop for ornithologists with its great diversity of birds, Great Meadows NWR offers a variety of hiking trails, providing visitors with opportunities to see observe, photograph and simply enjoy nature.
The National Wildlife Refuge System operates within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants. Since 1903 the system has grown to include more than 550 refuges, many Wetland Management Districts, and thousands of Waterfowl Production Areas encompassing more than 150 million acres. Fifty-nine refuges with the primary purpose of conserving endangered and threatened species.
More than 41 million people visit National Wildlife Refuges each year, pursuing activities that include fishing, hunting, wildlife observation, photography, education and interpretive programs and generating over $1.7 billion in sales for regional economies. Each state has at least one; Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area has three within our boundaries: Assabet River, Oxbow and Great Meadows