Legislation to protect parts of Nashua River

Staff photo by Hannah LaClaire A portion of the Nashua River cuts through downtown Nashua, as water moves lazily Friday afternoon. A portion of the river, as well as the Nissitissit and Squannacook rivers, are under consideration as “National Wild and Scenic Rivers.”

NASHUA – During the last several decades, the Nashua River has gone from a body of water so polluted that it changed colors regularly and animals were known to walk across its surface – to a clean, picturesque river popular among fishermen, kayakers and in some parts, swimmers.

The river, as well as its tributaries, the Squannacook and Nissitissit rivers, now support what Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Committee Chair Lucy Wallace called an “astounding” amount of biological diversity and is home to a rich history of Native American and early settler use.

These resources and historical elements are part of what led U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, along with U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, all D-N.H., to introduce legislation in the Senate to designate portions of the three as scenic via the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act works to “preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations,” according to the Wild and Scenic Rivers website. “It encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.”

The designation is given to rivers offering “outstandingly remarkable resource values” of national importance, Wallace said. She and others in nine Massachusetts communities formed the study committee, which Hollis and Brookline later joined to help achieve this designation, as the Nissitissit River’s headwaters are in Brookline.

They have spent the last several years developing a stewardship plan, as the designation requires.

“It’s a system that needs to be protected,” Wallace said, adding that the project, incorporating both states, makes it a “regional collaborative effort” that goes beyond political boundaries.

Not only does the river get a stewardship plan to help protect its waters, but there will also be funding coming in from the National Park Service.

“We’re really pumped about this,” she said.

The legislation covers a 27-mile stretch of the Nashua River, extending in to Massachusetts, but does not include Nashua. This is because, as a more urban area, Wallace said they “didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew.” However, she said in the future, as a scenic river they could add additional stretches to their designation.

“This legislation will benefit communities across the region by protecting the Nashua River’s waters, wildlife, and natural and historical resources,” Shaheen said. “Protecting and preserving the Nashua River, and surrounding environment, is a critical investment towards safeguarding today’s natural beauty for generations to come.”

“This designation enjoys broad, local support from conservation groups, regional planning commissions and individual towns that have a vested interest in protecting the Nissitissit River for years to come,” Kuster added. “This area serves as a critical habitat for many local species in New Hampshire, and I encourage my colleagues in Congress to bring this legislation to the floor.”

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.