Acushnet Sawmill Restoration

Acushnet River at the Sawmill
Bird's-eye view of the Acushnet River at the Sawmill.

At the edge of New Bedford’s urban North End sits the Acushnet Sawmill, a 19-acre former lumber yard on the Acushnet River. The Sawmill is now being transformed into a public park that will protect the river’s health and offer local residents a beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors.

Why is the Coalition restoring the Sawmill?

The Acushnet Sawmill is a wonderful natural resource – but you wouldn’t know it if you drove past the site in recent years. Overgrown with weeds, this neglected property has been an eyesore to neighbors along Mill Road. Decaying buildings sat on acres of cracked, vacant pavement, sending polluted runoff into the Acushnet River with every rain storm.

Autumn view of the Acushnet River from the Sawmill
By next fall, you will be able to enjoy this view of the Acushnet River.

Now, all of that is changing.

The Coalition is restoring the Acushnet Sawmill to bring back the natural, healthy ecosystems that once thrived here along the river. Once complete, the restored Sawmill will protect the Acushnet River’s health, provide better habitat for wildlife, and give local residents a safe, beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors.

Improving the Acushnet River’s health

Restoring the Sawmill will improve and protect the health of the Acushnet River, consistently ranked in the Coalition’s Bay Health Index as one of the most polluted waterways in all of Buzzards Bay.

Acushnet River at the Sawmill
The banks of the Acushnet River will be restored with native plants and trees.

The Coalition is leading the effort to rip out acres of pavement. In its place, a wildflower meadow and a red maple swamp will be planted. Along the river bank, plants and trees will replace the broken concrete and granite slabs that currently sit at the water’s edge. These natural areas will filter and absorb pollution instead of sending it into the river, improving water quality.

This project is funded primarily by the New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council (NBHTC) to restore the Acushnet River following decades of PCB pollution in New Bedford Harbor. The Sawmill is one of 34 conservation and restoration projects the NBHTC has supported throughout New Bedford Harbor as part of a $20.4 million settlement with companies that polluted the harbor.

Providing habitat for wildlife

The restored Sawmill will be a haven for wildlife in this urbanized area. Healthy, restored meadows, wetlands, and forests will provide habitat for birds, foxes, turtles, and many other species.

Fishway on the Acushnet River at the Sawmill
This nature-like fishway allows river herring to migrate upriver to spawn.

Habitat restoration at the Sawmill began in 2007, when the Coalition worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to lower a dam and build a nature-like fishway on the river. This innovative fishway uses carefully placed boulders to create a step-pool system, which mimics the river’s natural form and allows river herring to migrate upstream to their spawning areas.

This project has already achieved positive results: Since 2007, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has recorded a sixteen-fold increase in the number of herring in the Acushnet River.


volunteers at Acushnet SawmillHelp the Coalition keep the Sawmill clean by volunteering at an upcoming Stewardship Day. Contact Sara da Silva Quintal to learn how you can help.

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Giving local residents a place to explore the outdoors

Visitors walking along the Sawmill trail
You will be able to take a walk through the woods at the Sawmill.

If you live in Acushnet or New Bedford’s North End, you will soon be able to enjoy a beautiful natural park just minutes from your front door. Whether you enjoy walking, fishing, paddling, or birdwatching, the Sawmill will be a place where you can experience a special outdoor place that was at risk of being forgotten forever.

For visitors who want to learn about the Sawmill’s history and ecology, the last remaining building on the property is being restored into an education center, which will welcome people at the Sawmill’s entrance on Mill Road.

What will the Sawmill look like when it is restored?

The Acushnet Sawmill is being completely transformed. When it opens to the public in spring 2015, the Sawmill will be a safe, clean, and fun place for you and your family to enjoy the outdoors.

Current entrance to the Sawmill and artistic illustration of future entrance
Left: The entrance to the Sawmill in fall 2013. Right: Artistic illustration of the future Sawmill, planned to open in 2015.

Some of the features at the Sawmill will include:

  • A mile of nature trails and walking paths through meadows and the woods
  • A canoe/kayak launch into the mill pond
  • Scenic overlooks along the Acushnet River
  • A stone amphitheater that will host educational programming
  • An education center and interpretive displays throughout the park

Scroll through this photo slideshow to see images of the work to restore the Sawmill:

Can't see the slideshow above? View it on Flickr.