NRWA Historical Highlights

The restoration of the Nashua River launched the Nashua River Watershed Association into an international spotlight, a prime example of collaboration to accomplish a goal for the betterment of all society. The Association’s leadership and approach to protecting natural resources through a watershed approach, protecting both land and water throughout the region, continues to be recognized by federal, state, and local governmental leaders, as well as by leaders in the fields of environmental protection and environmental education.

Historical Highlights by Decade

 1960s  Hold your nose! Nashua River ahead  1960s  Marion Stoddart leads drive to clean up the Nashua River


  • Nashua River Clean-up Committee (NRCC) formed by Marion Stoddart and others
  • US Congress passed Clean Water Act in 1965
  • The North Nashua River in 1966 reached a septic condition and would not support life except for sludge worms
  • Petition and signatures and a bottle of dirty Nashua River waters presented to Massachusetts Governor Volpe and legislators
  • Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, Senator Ted Kennedy, Governor Volpe, and Lt. Governor Richardson visited the Nashua River and met with citizens
  • Massachusetts Clean Water Act signed into law
  • NRCC successfully pushed to raise the River Classification from “U”, unsuitable for the transportation of waste, to “B-“, suitable for all uses including fishing, swimming, and boating

Wastewater treatment plantMine Falls Canal in Nashua NH - Photo by Walter Remeis


  • Nashua River Watershed Association founded on October 16, 1969
  • Petition with 13,000 signatures sent to President Nixon, Governors Sargent and Peterson, Congressmen and Legislators seeking assurance that federal monies be appropriated to help with the construction of waste water treatment plants
  • Nashua River selected for the $15 million River Basin Demonstration Project (Nashua River Program) by the New England Region Commission
  • Mine Falls Canal Park purchased by the City of Nashua with Land and Water Conservation Grant
  • Nashua River Watershed Association’s office established at Fort Devens with donated space and staff time
  • Hydrology and Water Resources Study of the Nashua River watershed completed and published
  • First Plan for the Nashua River watershed published
  • $1 million of the Model River Demonstration Project money spent to construct major sewer interceptors in Nashua, NH
  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formed. Goal set that all US waters be fishable and swimmable by 1983
  • Squannacook-Nissitissit Sanctuary Act passed in 1975
  • The US Fish & Wildlife’s Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge established in 1974
  • West Fitchburg and East Fitchburg Treatment plants began operation
  • Squannacook Task Force organized
  • Project CURB (Clean Up Our River Banks) and the Groton Conservation Commission coordinated effort and established the Petapawag Canoe Launch site
  • Pepperell Treatment Plant began operations
  • Bolton Flats Wildlife Area established in 1977
  • Lancaster Greenway Committee helped assemble the 412 acres of the Cook Conservation Area

 Squannacook River in Townsend, MA - Photo by Bill Conaway J. Harry Rich State Forest on the banks of the Nashua River in Groton, MA - Photo by Robin Hebert


  • Lane-Comerford Conservation Area acquired in 1979 for wildlife habitat to mitigate the loss of flood plain with construction of I-90
  • First Nashua River Canoe Guide published and first Canoe Race held
  • The first state-owned Tree Farm in the nation, J. Harry Rich State Forest in Groton, acquired by Department of Environmental Management in1981, with efforts from Rich Tree Farm Task Force
  • NRWA Office relocated to Main Street in Fitchburg after 11 years at Fort Devens
  • Nashua River Greenway Management Plan and the Squannacook and Stillwater River Protection Plans completed. All three rivers designated by the Commonwealth as Scenic Rivers
  • Acid Rain Monitoring (ARM) began in 1983 and the NRWA was district coordinator for the statewide volunteer effort
  • NRWA received the Environmental Merit Award from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1984
  • Dam in Mine Falls Park in Nashua converted to hydroelectric dam with fish lift
  • United Nations honored NRWA Founder Marion Stoddart, naming her to the “Global 500 Roll of Honor”
  • Clinton Wastewater Treatment Plant started construction, Leominster Wastewater Facility completed and Ayer Wastewater Treatment Plant began advanced treatment
  • Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) began acquisition program in 1986 in Wachusett subwatershed
  • Monoosnoc Brook Greenway Project began with public and private partnership of the city, state, and Searstown developers brought together by NRWA
  • The Stillwater Task Force established in 1988

 Senator Kennedy speaks overlooking the Oxbow RefugeA River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry tells the story of the clean-up of the Nashua River


  • Prevent Pointless Pollution Program began alerting citizens to non-point sources of pollution and their prevention
  • Clinton Wastewater Treatment Facility completed
  • Children’s book about the Nashua River and its environmental history, A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry, published in 1992. It went on to win numerous awards including ABA’s Pick of the List, NCSS-CBC Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, and selection as a PBS Reading Rainbow book
  • New Hampshire Shorelands Protection Act passed in 1991
  • National Geographic visited the NRWA in 1992 and featured a story on the restoration of the Nashua River in its special Water issue devoted to fresh water in North America
  • NRWA began its volunteer water quality monitoring program in 1992
  • Governor William Weld helped celebrate the official opening of the NRWA’s River Resource Center in Groton, purchased in 1993
  • Environmental Education began at the River Resource Center and watershed curriculum was developed and taught in schools throughout the watershed
  • Fort Devens closed as US Army Base. NRWA helped develop Re-Use Plan
  • The 1995 to 2020 Vision for the Nashua River Watershed was published
  • 12,900 acres in the Nashua River watershed’s heartland designated as the Central Nashua River Valley Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC)
  • Restoration of riverbank in Howard Park helped by the Squannacook Task Force, Town of Townsend, AmeriCorps, and NRWA volunteers
  • Massachusetts State Legislature passed the Rivers Protection Act on July 31, 1996. The Rivers Act provides protection for over 9,000 miles of riverfront in Massachusetts
  • NRWA’s Communities Connected by Water program was initiated
  • NRWA had key role in developing the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative, which became widely acclaimed as a model for protecting and restoring the nation’s waterways
  • NRWA launched its first website

1999-2009 River ClassroomProtecting forests to protect water quality - Photo by Joan Wotkowicz


  • Both the cities of Fitchburg, Massachusetts and Nashua, New Hampshire drafted community development plans that make the Nashua River the focal point of their urban riverfront revitalization
  • In 2000, the Massachusetts Riverways Program presented the Fitchburg Stream Team with an Adopt-a-Stream award for its work to protect riverside greenways along the North Nashua River in Fitchburg
  • “River Classroom” canoe-based environmental education program, originally developed by Nashoba Paddler, transferred to the NRWA in 2001. NRWA now puts 1,800 students on the river each year
  • Squannassit and Petapawag Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) designated in 2002, the two largest ACECs in the Commonwealth to date, with Squannassit covering 37,450 acres and Petapawag covering 25,630 acres in the communities of Ashby, Ayer, Dunstable, Groton, Harvard, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Pepperell, Shirley, Townsend, and Tyngsboro
  • The Squannacook-Nissitissit Rivers combined sub-basin served as one of four sites nationally to merit a Source Water Stewardship Project, brought to the watershed by Trust for Public Land with their funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency
  • Nashua River Watershed Five Year Action Plan 2003 to 2007 drafted by the NRWA in partnership with the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative’s Team in the Nashua River watershed
  • 265-acre Pepperell Springs property on Gulf Brook, a tributary to the Nissitissit River, which is a major tributary to the Nashua River, successfully preserved by a coalition of partners including Pepperell residents, the Trust for Public Land (TPL), the Nashoba Conservation Trust, the Nissitissit River Land Trust, and the Town of Pepperell. Key funding of $1.383 million came from a Forest Legacy Program grant. NRWA co-chaired the Pepperell Springs Preservation Project
  • “Fund for the Future” capacity- building program began
  • NRWA’s partnership with the J.R. Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham chosen as one of the five schools in Massachusetts to implement a "Environment in an Integrating Context" curriculum
  • NRWA and three partner organizations, Beaver Brook Association, New England Forestry Foundation, and the Trust for Public Land, awarded a multi-year Targeted Watershed Initiative grant of $770,192 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – one of only fourteen awarded nationwide in 2004—for the NRWA’s "Protecting Today's Water for Tomorrow" project to proactively combat threats to drinking water in the Squannacook-Nissitissit sub-basin
  • The Nashua River Rail Trail completed and opened for public use
  • Education staff and programs, River Classroom and Scientist-in-Residence won multiple awards for “Excellence in Environmental Education” from the MA Executive Office of Environmental Affairs
  • Protection of 360-acre Surrenden Farm in Groton protected ¾ miles of Nashua River greenway as a result of a partnership project led by the Trust for Public Land, the Groton Conservation Trust, and others
  • Electronic cataloguing of the contents of the Bill Farnsworth Conservation Clearinghouse began in 2007
  • NRWA’s Smart Growth Circuit Rider worked with the Massachusetts towns of Ashby, Groton, Pepperell, and Townsend, and the New Hampshire towns of Mason, Greenville, New Ipswich, Hollis, and Brookline on writing or revising bylaws, ordinances, and town plans for the purpose of better protecting water resources
  • 1,162 students participate in Monoosnoc Brook Poster Contest at MBGP "Environmental Art & Music Festival" at Fall Brook Elementary School in 2008
  • Devens Open Space and Recreation Plan 2008 to 2013 drafted by NRWA
  • USDA awarded NRWA a Forest Innovation Grant to apply strategies learned from the EPA Targeted Watershed Initiative grant to 11 towns and lands in the southern portion of the watershed
  • In 2008, the NRWA began managing a multi-year project to eradicate invasive water chestnuts from the Pepperell Pond impoundment of the Nashua River under a grant from the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Town of Pepperell
  • EIC program that began at one school with 2 teachers in a single grade grew to include all teachers in grades 1 through 5 at J.R. Briggs Elementary in Ashburnham, and expanded to Fall Brook Elementary in Leominster
  • Over 1 mile of the Squannacook and Nashua Rivers’ frontage at their confluence in Shirley was permanently protected
  • Fitchburg protected two riverfront properties by creating parks, the 2-acre downtown Riverfront Park and the Steamline Trail Park which protects ¾ mile of North Nashua River frontage. In 2009, the City permanently protected a third riverfront property, with a proposal to create Gateway Park, with grant funding from the Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs. Active partners in that project included Mayor Lisa Wong and the City of Fitchburg, the Fitchburg Greenway Committee, the Nashua River Watershed Association, the North Central Charter Essential School, and particularly the North County Land Trust and The Trustees of Reservations
  • ExtraMile Design produces a documentary biography on NRWA founder Marion Stoddart called Work of 1000
  • “Nashua River Greenway” Forest Legacy Area, the largest such area of the half dozen in Massachusetts (over 420,000 eligible acres), designated as eligible for the Forest Legacy Program, a partnership between participating States and the USDA Forest Service focused on identifying and helping to protect environmentally important forests from conversion to non-forest uses
  • By 2009, NRWA worked on seven Forest Legacy projects (two of which were multi-tract) which will protect over 3,000 acres with a federal contribution of nearly $8 million

NRWA provides hands on outdoor science programs for youthControlling purple loosestrife through the release of Galerucella beetles


  • Fitchburg Greenway Committee, of which NRWA was a founding member and active participant, received The Trustees of Reservations 2010 Conservationist of the Year Award
  • National Geographic’s Written in Water: Messages of Hope for Earth’s Most Precious Resource (2010) contains an essay on the Nashua River cleanup by Marion Stoddart
  • NRWA’s Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring program began its 20th consecutive year in 2012. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts uses NRWA’s monitoring data to create its MA Water Quality Assessment Report, and the State of New Hampshire uses NRWA’s data in its Volunteer River Assessment Program
  • NRWA providing environmental education programs to over 10,000 children and adults each year
  • Bio-control project using Galerucella beetles to control invasive purple loosestrife in watershed wetlands begins