Step into an oasis built for nature. Here wildlife is paramount, and the protection of native plants and animals comes before human recreation. Jaunt along the trails and observe a unique wildness. Explore a variety of habitats and enjoy glimpses of local wildlife.
What Makes It Great
Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge is situated along an eight-mile stretch of the Nashua River. Spanning the towns of Harvard, Lancaster, Shirley, and Ayer, it consists of several habitats and harbors a variety of wildlife. Its name is derived from the many oxbows formed as the river changed over time. In the warmer months, keep your eyes out for migratory birds, beavers, turtles, butterflies, and other insects. Paddlers on the meandering river may glimpse beavers busy at work, turtles proudly warming themselves in the sun, and wood ducks nesting.
In the winter months, Oxbow’s fields and woodlands provide an escape for snowshoeing. The northern section of the refuge is currently closed to visitors. Contact the Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife Service for updated information. In the meantime, explore the two-mile loop formed from the Riverside Trail, Turnpike Trail, and the Tank Road. This trail is mainly flat, features self-guided nature exploration, and offers benches and photo blinds for quiet viewing. Though the wildlife this refuge protects seem to have “flown the coop” during winter months, snowy trails offer unique glimpses of animal tracks, such as those of Eastern Coyotes and White-tailed deer.
The entrance to the refuge is located in Harvard, a picturesque town oozing with quintessential New England charm. Follow Route 110 back to Harvard Center to warm up with piping hot cocoa at the Harvard General Store. If you happen upon it at the right time, you might walk into a wine or beer tasting or a Pub Night featuring a local or regional band.
Who is Going to Love It
With a section of the refuge closed, visitors are somewhat limited on exploration possibilities. The two mile loop than runs through the Harvard section is an easy trail for novices, kids, or adventurers seeking a mellow escape. Boston commuters can jump off Route 2 and quickly find themselves in the quiet of the woods after a long day in the office. Families will enjoy tracking animal prints in the snow and catching glimpses of the river. This is an ideal adventure for beginners to test their skills at snowshoeing.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Massachusetts Route 2, take Exit 38 (Route 110/111) south toward Harvard; bear right to stay on Route 110 at Harvard Center; and, turn right onto Still River Depot Road at the Still River Post Office. The refuge parking area is at the end of Still River Depot Road.
Public use of trails is permitted 1/2 hour after sunrise to 1/2 hour before sunset. No pets are allowed in the refuge.
Be aware that because the area was once used for military training, visitors should stay clear of any suspicious metal objects and notify manager of their sighting. Occasionally visitors may hear shooting from nearby Fort Devens and see an army vehicle passing along the refuge maintenance road.