The Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area is varied and complex with natural features including woodlands, meadows, wetlands and waterways recognized as community assets important to local quality of life.
Shaped by receding glaciers, its landforms include moraines and eskers of low and varied relief. Many low-lying areas were once lake bottoms or river courses of silt which drain poorly and the region contains numerous swamps and kettle holes. The resulting landscape is one of gentle hills and uneven topography yielding intimate outdoor spaces and occasional vistas.
The region is drained primarily by three rivers and their tributaries with each ultimately flowing northeast toward the Merrimack River near the border of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Of these, the largest is the Nashua, once a glacial lake, which flows through the heart of the heritage area and includes its largest area of floodplain and good agricultural soils.
The extensive woodlands of central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, a consequence of the widespread abandonment of farmland within the region beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, remain a principal character-defining feature of the landscape.
Land conservation is a primary vehicle for preserving natural and cultural resources within Freedom’s Way. Overall, almost 25 percent of the total land area (994 square miles) within Freedom’s Way is presently conserved through public-trust land ownership and conservation restrictions
Both central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire enjoy strong, active and highly visible programs for land conservation and management within the heritage area at the federal, state, regional and local levels. Active regional nonprofit organizations provide leadership for much of this effort, but it is at the local level that the most comprehensive work is being accomplished.
Conservation lands, trails, back roads, and rivers within Freedom’s Way provide opportunities for a rich array of recreational experiences including hiking, biking, paddling, bird watching and skiing.
GREAT MEADOWS, ASSABET RIVER & OXBOW
NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES
Three National Wildlife Refuges, 7,697 acres in size and part of the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex, are located within portions of twelve Massachusetts towns within the heritage area.
The Middlesex Fells Reservation was established in 1894, the beginning of the great statewide park system in Massachusetts. Its 2,575 acres are among the earliest properties acquired to protect scenic and natural lands in metropolitan Boston. Within the reservation is the 203-acre Virginia Wood, the first gift made to the world’s first land trust, The Trustees of Reservations (originally known as The Trustees of Public Reservations).
Wachusett Mountain State Reservation located in Princeton, MA contains 3,000 acres of alpine meadows, ponds, streams, fields, and forests including the largest known area of old growth forest east of the Connecticut River in Massachusetts.
The mountain is part of an extensive greenway area, including Leominster State Forest, Mass Audubon’s Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, and Minns Wildlife Sanctuary, and offers seventeen miles of hiking and walking trails. A visitor center is opened seasonally.
The Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, MA encompasses 335 acres and is part of the Massachusetts Forests and Parks System. A National Historic Landmark, Walden Pond was home to Henry David Thoreau from 1845 to 1847 and his experience there inspired the 1854 book Walden. Walden Pond is considered the birthplace of the American conservation movement.
Open seasonally, Walden Pond’s new visitor center, scheduled to open in 2016, will provide enhanced interpretation, connecting to sites of significance to Thoreau enthusiasts.
The region is home to an extensive system of hiking, biking, and walking trails each with varying degrees of existing interpretation.
Regionally recognized trails include the two-state Nashua River Rail Trail, a twelve-mile rail trail linking Ayer, MA to Nashua, NH; the 200-mile Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway extending through thirty-four towns in eastern Massachusetts; the ten-mile Minuteman Bikeway linking Bedford, MA to Cambridge, MA through Arlington, MA; and the Bruce Freeman Trail, just over six miles including Weston but ultimately to link Sudbury, MA, Concord, MA, Acton, MA and Carlisle, MA to Lowell along the twenty-five mile route of the Old New Haven Railroad Framingham & Lowell line.
Many communities within the heritage area manage and maintain comprehensive walking trails which are signed and often include interpretive features.
Acton Conservation Trust
American Farmland Trust NE Office
Arlington Land Trust
Ashburnham Conservation Trust
Bay Circuit Alliance
Bolton Conservation Trust
Boxborough Conservation Trust
Carlisle Conservation Foundation
Clinton Greenway Conservation Trust
Concord Land Conservation Trust
Dunstable Land Trust
Groton Conservation Trust
Harvard Conservation Trust
Lancaster Land Trust
Lincoln Land Conservation Trust
Littleton Conservation Trust
MA Chapter of The Nature Conservancy
Monadnock Community Land Trust
Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust
Nashua River Watershed Association
New England Wilderness Trust
New England Wildflower Society
Nichols-Smith Conservation Land Trust
Nissitissit River Land Trust
North County Land Trust
Princeton Land Trust
Rural Land Foundation of Lincoln
Society for the Protection of NH Forests
Souhegan Valley Land Trust
Sterling Land Trust
Stow Conservation Trust
Sudbury Valley Trustees
The Trust for Public Land NE Office
The Trustees of Reservations
Townsend Land Conservation Trust
Walden Woods Project (Concord)
Westford Conservation Trust
Ashburnham State Forest
Carlisle State Forest
Hodgman State Forest
Lancaster State Forest
Leominster State Forest
Marlborough-Sudbury State Forest
Marshall State Forest
Mountain Pond Forest
Otter River State Forest
Prouty Woods Community Forest
Russell State Forest
Thayer Memorial Forest
Willard Brook State Forest
Alewife Brook Greenway
Assabet River Rail Trail
Bay Circuit Trail
Bedford Narrow Gauge Rail Trail
Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
East Coast Greenway
Mason Railroad Trail
Mass Central Rail Trail
Nashua Canal Trail
Nashua Heritage Rail Trail
Nashua River Rail Trail
North Central Pathway
Northern Strand Community Trail
Otter River Blue Trail
Reformatory Branch Trail
STATE PARKS & RESERVATIONS
Dunn State Park
Great Brook Farm State Park
Lake Dennison Recreation Area
Middlesex Fells State Reservation
Mount Watatic Reservation
Pearl Hill State Park
Wachusett Mountain State Reservation
Walden Pond State Reservation
Ware River Watershed
WILDLIFE VIEWING AREAS
Birch Hill Wildlife Management Area
Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area
Delaney Wildlife Management Area
Farley Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary
Flat Rock Wildlife Sanctuary
High Ridge Wildlife Management Area
Lake Wampanoag Wildlife Sanctuary
Lincoln Woods Wildlife Sanctuary
Nashoba Brook Wildlife Sanctuary
Ponemah Bog Wildlife Sanctuary
Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary