OXBOW NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
The Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, located 40 miles west of Boston in north-central Massachusetts, consists of 1,667 acres within the towns of Ayer, Shirley, Harvard and Lancaster and lies along approximately eight-miles of the Nashua River. The regionally significant wetlands in and near the refuge, including the tributary drainages and headwaters, are listed as a priority for protection under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986. The Oxbow NWR is one of the eight ecologically diverse refuges managed by the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
In 1917 Camp Devens, later to become Fort Devens, was carved from these four towns. Two land transfers of 711 acres from the Army’s Fort Devens in 1974 and 1988 established the original portion of Oxbow NWR. A third transfer from the Army in 1999 added 836 acres. The former Watt Farm property along Still River Depot Road was acquired from the Town of Harvard in 2001 adding 120 acres. In 2016 the Bill Ashe Visitor Center, named after the Director’s father who was a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee, opened at Oxbow NWR. The pavilion is handicap-accessible. Two miles of handicap-accessible trails were added, one that lead directly to the Nashua River and the newly-built canoe launch.
Once a place where farmers tilled the soil and soldiers trained, Oxbow NWR is now a place where nature can assert itself, providing opportunities for visitors to experience the wonder of the natural world. Refuge biologists, working with research partners, are conducting population surveys and inventories of a variety of species to determine future wildlife and habitat management. Currently the Oxbow NWR is focused on the Blandings Turtle, considered a threatened species in Massachusetts, working with Great Meadows and Assabet River Refuges to increase their population and maintain their habitat.
The Friends of the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge is a dedicated group of people formed in 1988 that provides information on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and sponsors its own activities while promoting the protection of the Refuge’s resources.
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