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The Acushnet River flows into New Bedford Harbor and thence into Buzzards Bay.

Urban Oasis: The Sawmill at Acushnet River Reserve, New Bedford, MA

By Tom Richardson; Photography by Kevin Erdvig

In 2015, the Buzzards Bay Coalition and its community partners finished the restoration of a 19-acre parcel of land—the site of a former sawmill—on the Acushnet River, just north of New Bedford Harbor. The property is now a beautiful public space where people can hike, kayak, canoe and simply relax and enjoy nature.

Aerial view of the Sawmill, circa 1950.

Simultaneously, the restoration project has improved the health of the river, as well as Buzzards Bay in general, by improving water quality and making it easier for migratory species such as river herring and American eels to travel back and forth between the ocean and upriver spawning and nursery areas.

Paddlers can make their way upriver for about a mile after launching at the Acushnet Sawmill Preserve in New Bedford

The main trail through the Sawmill property is about a half-mile long, and leads through wildflower meadows, red oak woods, and a red cedar swamp. There’s also a viewing platform overlooking the river where you can observe the many types of waterfowl that visit the preserve, including geese, ducks, egret, and heron. Osprey, kingfishers, and red-tail hawk are common sights. Many parts of the trail are ADA accessible.

The Acushnet River flows into New Bedford Harbor and Buzzards Bay.

The Sawmill is also home to a nature-like “fishway”—a series of pools and boulders that helps fish migrate upstream each spring. For paddlers looking to do the same, access to the upper river is provided by a canoe and kayak launch area. From here, you can paddle upstream about a mile. Along the way, expect to see turtles, birds and fish ranging from bluegills to bass.

The Sawmill may not offer the type of extensive trails and paddling venues found in more rural areas, but it nevertheless provides an important oasis in an urban area where local residents have limited access to nature.

Download a trail map