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The River Road property borders what is called “the most scenic road in West Newbury.”
For Indigenous people of southern New Hampshire and northern Essex and Middlesex counties in Massachusetts, the Merrimack River was a major canoe thoroughfare between Lake Winnipesaukee and the sea. The Merrimack also connected all their villages dotting its shores. Archaeological surveys in the 1940s identified more than a hundred settlement sites on both banks of the river. The people there at the time of European contact were branches of the Pennacook people of New Hampshire: the Pawtucket and the Pentucket.
The Indigenous people fished in the Merrimack for river herring, salmon, and sturgeon, prized for caviar. Men caught sturgeon from their canoes at night using torchlight to attract the fish to the surface. The Merrimack offered other important subsistence resources as well. Women seasonally harvested the wild rice growing on the banks and in the tributaries. They would bend the grasses over the gunnels of their canoes, beat out the rice kernels onto woven mats, and then release the plants to continue growing.
Its two parcels on the north side of River Road lie adjacent to the river. One is dry enough to offer the opportunity for foot access to the Merrimack River. There is a figure eight trail, with the first loop 0.5 miles and both loops totalling 0.8 miles. The elevation starts with a gentle rise of about 30 feet to the first split in the trail, then it rises more steeply at the south side of the property to a height of 98 feet.
These 31 acres rise up from the Merrimack River and River Road, encompassing mature woodlands with stands of giant white pines, oaks, maples, and paper birches, wetlands, and a portion of a year-round stream. Eagles have been frequently spotted in the area in recent years.
Wetlands provide important habitat for species that rely upon seasonal vernal pools, a habitat type that is increasingly scarce. The intact forests are important for helping to purify water flowing to the Merrimack River.
The two pieces on the north side of River Road lie adjacent to the Merrimack River. One of these is almost completely flooded, and likely still harbors wild rice, a rare plant that is critical food and habitat for waterfowl.
With support from the Open Space Committee, West Newbury residents voted in 2019 to approve $75,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for the purchase of a Conservation Restriction on the River Road property.
The remaining $140,000 needed to purchase and conserve the land was fundraised privately by Greenbelt. Greenbelt is grateful to many individual donors, the residents of West Newbury, and the Fields Pond Foundation for their generous support that made this conservation project a success. More than half of the gifts received for this project were from West Newbury residents.
"River Road with 31 acres of woodlands with river access adds to West Newbury's large and expanding portfolio of conserved acreage crisscrossed by 30 miles of trails," said West Newbury resident and Open Space Committee chairman John Dodge. "This community is committed to maintaining its rural character and heritage. What's more, this is 31 acres of wildlife habitat that will not disappear. Deepest thanks to all who contributed their time, energy and money to preserve the River Road parcel."
River Road, West Newbury. (Opens in Google Maps)
Latitude: 42.82099, Longitude: --70.97215
Traveling eastbound on Route 113 in West Newbury, turn left onto Church Street and then right on River Road. Traveling westbound on Route 113, take a right onto Coffin Street and then a left onto River Road. There is a small parking area near 222 River Road.
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Essex, MA 01929
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Greenbelt thanks the photographers whose work is featured prominently on our website: Jerry Monkman, Dorothy Monnelly, Adrian Scholes, David Alden St. Pierre & Neil Ungerleider