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The Visitor Center

The new Visitor Center at Assabet River NWR on opening day. Photo courtesy of David Griffin.The new Visitor Center at Assabet River NWR on opening day.Photo courtesy of David Griffin.

Note: Due to COVID, the Visitor Center is closed indefinitely.

The Visitor Center at the Assabet River NWR located off Hudson Road opened in October 2010. This 5,000 square foot energy efficient, eco-friendly building houses an environmental education classroom and community meeting space, wildlife exhibits, a nature store, and office space for staff and the Friends of the Assabet River NWR.

The Visitor Center is open Fridays through Sundays from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Visitors are able to drive up Winterberry Way during Visitor Center hours only at this time; the gate is open sunrise to sunset however there is additional parking outside of the gate for visitors to the refuge. School group visits and special tours can be arranged beyond established open hours.

While the Visitor Center serves the entire Eastern Massachusetts NWR complex, visitors to Assabet River will find it particularly useful, especially if you are introducing children to the nature and wildlife in the area. The Visitor Center provides the following services:

Helpful Staff

NWR Staff and Friends volunteers are available at the reception desk to answer your questions about the refuge, inform you of special events for the day and to help you orient yourself.

Nature Store

The Nature Store in the Visitor Center has a wide selection of books available, including field identification guides, as well as a selection of children's books and educational material. And you can pick up "necessities" such as insect repellant you may have forgotten. The Nature Store is run by the Friends of the Assabet River NWR.

Ecological Exhibits

The exhibits within the center are of high quality and introduce the visitors to the wildlife of the different habitats represented by the Refuges - intertidal zones, salt marshes, sand dunes, pine barrens, rivers, freshwater wetlands and mixed forests. There are panels describing their characteristics and accompanying models of the habitats. There are interactive features to keep children and adults equally engaged. These include sounds of the animals such as bird calls, beavers slapping their tails on the water. Others include pull out drawers with real life specimens of insects and shells.

The exhibits includes a "Night Room” which gives visitors and especially children the sounds of the night. Crickets, owls and other animals of the night. There are other exciting sound and light effects of lightning and thunder in the background.

History Exhibits

The exhibition area also provides a description of describing human activity in the area that is now the refuge dating back to 5500 years ago. Use by Native Americans led to early European settlers in the 17th century and intense farming in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Much of this research into the early history was done by the Public Archaeology Lab of Rhode Island who conducted archaeological research within the refuge.

Conservation Heroes

Massachusetts and the area around the Concord, Sudbury and Assabet rivers are home to some of the Americans who pioneered the idea of "conservation". The exhibit area introduces some of the country's Conservation Heroes, our great environmental thinkers from the 19th and 20th century America who have shaped the ideas and institutions that take care of public lands. Henry David Thoreau, who needs no introduction, President Theodore Roosevelt who designated designated Florida's Pelican Island as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, Rachel Carson who was a scientist and editor-in-chief of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and known mostly for her book Silent Spring and Aldo Leopold of the US Forest Service. Special mention is made of Barbara Volkle, the founding President of Friends of the Assabet River NWR, who played a key role in bringing the Visitor Center to the Refuge.

Green Building

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is thrilled that the visitor center is a green building, the first of its kind within the Service. It has energy efficient lighting, passive solar arches, solar roof panels, cellulose insulation using newspaper, radiant floor heating, polished concrete floors, counter tops made of “paper stone” of compressed paper, toilets made of recycled plastic bottles, carpeting made from recycled lumber, landscaping with native plants and a "no-mow" lawn of short grass varieties, and porous pavement that helps control storm water. The refuge staff and Friends volunteers will be happy to explain how the building "works" and explain how cost-effective green building can be. For information about the building see the US Department of Energy's summary of this building at Net Zero Buildings.

Meeting and Education Spaces

The Center has a large meeting room that accommodate over 100 people as well as classroom space for hands on educational projects. The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to make a curriculum based Environmental Education Program a major focus of the center.

Restroom Facilities

Environmentally friendly restroom facilities are available both inside and outside the Visitor Center. The facilities outside the center are open during all hours the refuge is open (sunrise to sunset).

Refuge staff is available at the center. Photo courtesy of David Griffin.Refuge staff is available at the Center.Photo courtesy of David Griffin.

Exhibits are for the young and old alike. Photo courtesy of David Griffin.Exhibits are for the young and old alike.Photo courtesy of David Griffin.

Exhibits are for the young and old alike. Photo courtesy of David Griffin.Exhibits are for the young and old alike.Photo courtesy of David Griffin.

Exhibits are suitable for congresswoman Niki Tsongas too! Photo courtesy of David Griffin.Exhibits are suitable for congresswoman Niki Tsongas too!Photo courtesy of David Griffin.

Classroom facilities are avialable for environmental education. Photo courtesy of David Griffin.Classroom facilities are avialable for environmental education.Photo courtesy of David Griffin.