Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is composed of valuable freshwater wetlands flanking 12 miles of the Concord and Sudbury Rivers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protects and manages Great Meadows as habitat for wildlife, with a special emphasis on migratory birds. Many of these migratory species nest here, and a variety of species native to the area also inhabit the refuge. The diversity of plant and animal life visible from the refuge trails provides visitors with excellent opportunities for wildlife observation and nature study.
The refuge consists of two units of land bordering on seven historically significant towns - Billerica, Bedford, Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland. Minuteman National Historical Park and Thoreau's Walden Pond are located nearby. Boston's metropolitan population has ready access to the refuge, 20 miles west of the city.
Many relics of early people found in the vicinity date back to 5500 B.C. Thousands of stone artifacts have been found in Concord alone. The river valleys satisfied the requirements of Indian life. River meadows and plains were burned over to provide cropland and pasture for game, and the waters provided fish in great quantity for both food and fertilizer. Many sites were used seasonally by Native Americans to take advantage of available natural resources. The river provided transportation for the Indians' annual summer movement to the sea, where the greater portion of their winter food was gathered and dried.
Indians named the Concord River"Musketahquid," their word for grassy banks. Settlers named the grasslands left in summer by the river's retreat from its flood plain the "Great River Meadows." Hay was harvested annually and provided an important income for these early settlers. With the advent of industrialization in the early 1 9th century, a mill dam was built in Billerica. The dam caused the river's water level to rise and to extend into the meadows: the resulting wetland environment was too moist to support the prized hay crop, and thus was considered useless. The newly created habitat was attractive to waterfowl, which increasingly used the area. In fact, the wetlands became highly valued for hunting and fishing.
Recognizing their value, Samuel Hoar, a hunter, purchased a part of the meadows in 1928. He built dikes or earthen dams to hold the water within these marshlands, enhancing their value as waterfowl habitat. In 1944, Hoar donated 250 acres of this land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To provide greater protection for the area wetlands and wildlife the Service began buying additional land during the 1960's. Today the two units of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge contain approximately 3,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat.
Henry Thoreau, a renowned citizen of Concord in the 1800's, often explored the Great Meadows. His field notes include descriptions of plants and animals which he observed there.
Wildlife species common to much of New England are found at both units of the Great Meadows Refuge. A great diversity of birds has been recorded here, and an annotated list of 221 species is available upon request. A few white-tailed deer live along the marsh borders and on the uplands. Muskrats, foxes, raccoons, cottontail rabbits, weasels, squirrels, and various small mammals are common; naturalists will find excellent winter tracking here. Amphibians and reptiles can be observed in the warmer months, but no poisonous snakes are found on the refuge. Several species of waterfowl, including Canada geese, mallards, black ducks, wood ducks, and blue-winged teal nest here. Nesting boxes are provided for wood ducks in the refuge's wetlands.
Weir Hill Area
The refuge office, visitor center (open daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed weekends and holidays during winter). and educational facilities are all part of the headquarters. located adjacent to the Sudbury River at the base of Weir Hill. This hill-a 12,000-year-old glacial deposit-was for many years home of Native Americans who trapped fish in the river by constructing fish weirs; hence the name"Weir Hill."
Today visitors to this area may hike more than a mile of upland trails that take them through woodlands and fields and to the river, brook, pond. and marshes that surround the hill.
Teachers and other group leaders may receive assistance in planning to use the refuge as an educational resource. With help from refuge staff, leaders can plan and lead visits that will enable their students or group to learn directly about the natural environment by studying wildlife habitat and observing wildlife.
To reach the headquarters at Weir Hill. follow Route 27 north (1.7 miles) from Wayland and turn right onto Water Row Road. Follow Water Row (1.2 miles) until it ends, and turn right onto Lincoln Road. Travel a half mile, than turn left onto Weir Hill Road.
Dike Trail Area
This original 250-acre area that belonged to Samuel Hoar is still known as the"Great Meadows," and is open to visitors. Several trails are available for wildlife observation. including the Dike Trail, a 1.7 mile loop around one of the marsh pools. Trail-side photo blinds and an observation tower provide visitors with additional unique views of the refuge and its wildlife.
Travel to this area by following Route 62 east from Concord Center toward Bedford. After about one mile, turn left onto Monsen Road. Continue to the refuge entrance road to the left.
Hike the nature trails. Observe, photograph. and study wildlife and plants. Snowshoe and cross-country ski on the trails in winter. There are no picnic or camp sites on the refuge. The refuge has long been a favorite haunt of birdwatchers. Noted ornithologists consider the Dike Trail Area of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge to be one of the best inland birding areas in the State.
Leaflets are available at the Dike Trail in Concord and at the visitor center at Weir Hill in Sudbury.
Special Thanks to the Refuge Reporter for the Photograph.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication