Twenty years ago, the Assabet River Wildlife Refuge was not on our radar. In fact, it was not open to the public. Rather, it was still part of Fort Devens, and used for training purposes. But this 3.5 square mile open space is now open to the public, with a visitor’s center, ponds, wetlands, woodlands, and a whole lot of abandoned military storage bunkers. Sadly for dog lovers, dogs are not welcomed at the refuge.
A welcome sight was port-a-potties outside the visitor’s center. The Visitor’s center has bathrooms as well, along with a small interpretive museum area. But it is only open weekends, 10-4.
What we mostly found at this refuge was quiet. By the number of people in the parking area, we knew others were also walking, biking, fishing or even skateboarding in the area, but we met very few of these folks as we took the outer ring road/path through the refuge, and again when we explored the inner ring of pathways that are open to biking, pedaling a total of about ten miles on our two hour visit.
The formerly paved access roads throughout the refuge make for some uneven biking experiences–some of the paving is intact, while other pathways are rough gravel, and some of the low spots are simply mud that required us to push our bike in, through and around those spots.
Several spots are so low that in spring the water between the wetlands on either side of the path must flow over the trail. In these spots cement sluiceways have been constructed, along with wooden bridges over what will be small streams at times. But the trails are clear of obstructions.
Trees and branches have been cleared, and while poison ivy is plentiful,
the paths have been mowed to keep back the lush undergrowth that is attempting to fill in this open area.
It was stunning to realize the efforts involved in building the multiple storage facilities bunkers. I pictured hard-working Army privates laboring away with shovels to create these large structures, while my husband assured me they would have used machines to create these concrete impoundments, covered in earth. Regardless of how they were built, it was a startling sight to see as we pedaled through these quiet woodland, graveled, somewhat paved paths.
On this hot day, we did not join the other intrepid walkers. We stayed on our bike, which helped us escape the worst of the bugs. We noticed that those we passed wore insect nets over their hats. Yes, the swamps in the area offer great habitat for bugs of various kinds.
The inner trails of the refuge are off-limits to bikes, restricted to walkers only. Fishing is permitted in the area’s ponds. Hunters are welcomed to the wildlife refuge in season, so it will be important as fall comes to wear blaze orange if visiting the refuge when hunting season arrives.
The north side of the refuge offers easy access to the Bruce Freeman Railtrail, by way of White Pond Road, so for those looking for extra miles by bike you will find lots of options to explore. Within the refuge are water views, but the best views of the Assabet River itself are found along the adjacent railtrail.
Best address to use for the visitor’s center is 680 Hudson Road, Sudbury. We accessed the parking from the south by taking Rt. 495 to Rt. 85 into Hudson, traveled east on Rt. 62/Main Street, stayed on Main Street when Rt. 62 forked left to the north. Main Street becomes Sudbury Road, which turns into Hudson Road when crossing the town line into Sudbury. Look for the Massachusetts State Fire Services campus on the left; the entrance to parking is immediately after these buildings on the left.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then