The Sawmill sits at the edge of New Bedford’s urban North End, along the banks of the Acushnet River. Over the past three years, this 19-acre property has been restored as a public park that protects the river’s health, provides better habitat for fish and wildlife, and gives local residents a beautiful place to explore the outdoors just steps away from the city.
The Sawmill is now open to the public every day from dawn to dusk for recreational activities such as walking and hiking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, picnicking and birdwatching. The Sawmill is located at 32 Mill Rd., Acushnet.
“The completion of The Sawmill restoration opens a new chapter in the life of this river and our community’s connection to it,” said Buzzards Bay Coalition President Mark Rasmussen. “With outstanding support from many levels of government and the people of this community, we have undone much harm and created a much brighter future here. We look forward to watching new generations experience an entirely new river at The Sawmill.”
The Acushnet River is one of the most important rivers draining to Buzzards Bay, and historically the most abused. The river was particularly broken at the site of The Sawmill, where a large dam blocked passage by migratory fish.
Working with contractors, the New Bedford Department of Public Infrastructure and hundreds of community volunteers, the Coalition removed acres of pavement and buildings, restored natural river banks, replanted a red maple swamp and wildflower meadows, and built nature trails and scenic overlooks along the river.
The Sawmill’s learning center is dedicated to the Hawes family, which owned the industrial lumber yard located on Mill Road for nearly 150 years. In 2007, the Hawes family sold this property to the Coalition for permanent conservation.
Funding for the ecological restoration at The Sawmill came from the New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council, which awarded the Coalition $1.2 million in penalty funds following the chronic release of hazardous polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into New Bedford Harbor. The New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council is composed of representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
The Sawmill is located in the town of Acushnet, which was a strong partner in the restoration of The Sawmill. Students from Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School assisted with carpentry and electrical work in the Hawes Family Learning Center, which sits at the entrance to The Sawmill and interprets the history, ecology and restoration of the property and the Acushnet River. The city of New Bedford also played a major role in restoring The Sawmill. Workers from the Department of Public Infrastructure removed acres of pavement, cleared overgrown vegetation and rebuilt street curbing. Additionally, students from Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School connected plumbing in the Hawes Family Learning Center.
Quotes from Partner Organizations and Elected Officials
“The Sawmill restoration project not only restores the former lumber yard to its natural state that will now provide a habitat for fish and wildlife to thrive in – it also will serve as an invaluable educational resource for the surrounding communities,” said U.S. Rep. William Keating. “The coordinated efforts of the Buzzards Bay Coalition, all levels of government and our community to restore the old lumber yard into a beautiful public park and a healthy river will benefit our community and wildlife for generations to come.”
“The wetlands and riverbeds along the Acushnet River are critical towards improving the quality and resiliency of Buzzards Bay,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mark Montigny. “This project brings us one step closer to remedying the harmful effects of decades-long PCB pollution into the river by negligent tortfeasors concerned solely with making a profit rather than being a good community steward.”
“I am delighted to see that the Coalition, the town of Acushnet and the city of New Bedford have collectively brought new life back to this area of our community,” said Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral of New Bedford. “The Sawmill restoration provides our residents with a beautiful and environmentally safe shared outdoor space that can be enjoyed for generations to come.”
“As a student of history, I am always fascinated by how – through our ingenuity, determination and productivity – we impact our landscape. We’re here today because, throughout its history, the Acushnet Sawmill has always sat at the crossroads of these drives,” said Rep. Robert Koczera of New Bedford. “I would like to congratulate the Buzzards Bay Coalition and its many partners for launching the newest chapter in The Sawmill’s history. Our community has now reclaimed this site so future generations can appreciate nature and learn how to work with it, not against it.”
“The completion of this project provides renewed riverine access to a working-class neighborhood in New Bedford,” said NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator John Bullard. “Although the Acushnet River is in this neighborhood’s backyard, access to the water was blocked by pollution and dams. Now a beautiful park and walking trails provide community access to the water and the ability to explore the outdoors. It also ensures that the children of the North End of New Bedford will have access to the river and all of the life associated with it.”
“The Coalition transformed the Acushnet River and The Sawmill site from an industrial area to a natural sanctuary, alive with ducks and teaming with river herring”, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service New England Field Office Supervisor Tom Chapman. “The restored habitats also provide a wonderful opportunity for people in Acushnet and New Bedford to connect with the outdoors. We are proud to have supported this project through our role on the New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council.”
“This project, combined with the prior fishway creation and land conservation along the Acushnet River, has restored resources and extended benefits to the fish, wildlife and people who depend on New Bedford Harbor and its watershed,” said Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
“The restoration of this iconic property will provide recreational opportunities for the families of the SouthCoast for years to come,” said Acushnet Selectman David Wojnar. “On behalf of the Board of Selectmen, I congratulate the Coalition, Acushnet town officials and taxpayers, Old Colony and the city of New Bedford for their commitment to this project.”
“I could not be more pleased with how the many partners, including the city of New Bedford, came together to create this unique resource for our community,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell. “This project honors the role that this location played in the city’s history by showcasing its ecological importance and giving it new value as a recreational resource.”
“Since 1865, generations of the Hawes family have been stewards of the property on Mill Road,” said Mary Ellen Hawes Lees. “The dedication of this Learning Center is a wonderful way to share the unique beauty and historic importance of this site with the community for future generations. We thank the Buzzards Bay Coalition for its commitment to this project and especially to Mark Rasmussen for his vision for the Acushnet River watershed and Sara da Silva Quintal and all the others for their dedication to complete the physical transformation.”