Assabet River Bluff

View of the Assabet River from the trail. Photo by Jane Gruba-Chevalier


The Town officially closed on the Assabet River Bluff property at the beginning of August 2022. Six acres of riparian habitat and a lovely woodland trail along the bluff are now permanently protected. One acre has been acquired by the Concord Housing Development Corporation for future affordable housing.

We are incredibly grateful for the outpouring of generous support from hundreds of members, neighbors, and others from Concord and beyond who made the preservation of Assabet River Bluff possible!

Thank you also to the residents of Concord for investing Community Preservations funds in this project.

It has been a privilege to work with all of the project partners, including Sudbury Valley Trustees, Town of Concord, Concord Housing Development Corporation, Concord Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, and Concord Housing Foundation.

View from Assabet River Bluff. Photo provided by SVT

Project Background

How did this project come about?

Beginning in summer 2021, conservation and housing interests in Concord began working with the seller of the properties at 2B Upland Road and 406 Old Marlborough Road (an existing, two-family home), to purchase the “Assabet River Bluff” properties. The sellers agreed to keep the land off the market through 2022 Town Meeting so that funding from the Community Preservation Act, in combination with private donations and possibly state grants, could be secured to purchase the land for $2.8 million by July 2022.

In the absence of a successful campaign, the owners would sell to another buyer, likely a private developer, who could build up to 11 units under a Planned Residential Development, or 6 units as a Standard Subdivision. Public access would not be guaranteed.

Together with residents in the Upland Road and Old Marlboro Road neighborhood, conservation and housing interests worked toward a plan that included a substantial portion of permanently conserved open space and a portion of the site to be set aside for limited, permanently restricted affordable housing.

Looking up the river with Assabet River Bluff to the left. Photo by Hannah Chevalier

What are the conservation values of the Assabet River Bluff?

The Assabet River Bluff is a simple landscape of a plateau, a very steep, 20-foot high bank and the Assabet River. The underlying soils are permeable glacial outwash that supports a community of white pines, and red and black oaks. Black locust, highbush blueberry and sweet pepperbush grow in small areas of the property. The vegetative cover helps protect water quality, fish and amphibians in the Assabet River. Across the river are floodplain wetlands owned by the Town’s Natural Resources Commission. The bluff on the outside of the curve and the wetlands inside the bow create a unified and scenic landscape.

River view from trail. Photo by Hannah Chevalier

Recreation.  A network of well-used neighborhood trails traverses the site and are now preserved and open to the public. The main trail along the top of the bluff affords lovely views of the river. This trail currently continues as an informal path on private property for 500 feet across four house lots and then meets the sidewalk at the Pine Street Bridge.

Since its opening in 2020, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail has abutted the Assabet River Bluff property, creating an opportunity to make this property even more accessible.  The Bluff acts as a quiet detour off the rail trail and provides a scenic, natural corridor for the 1,000 foot-long segment that abuts the rail trail.

Great Crested Flycatcher. Photo by Raj Das and provided by SVT

Habitat. Concord native and world-renowned naturalist, Peter Alden, spent his formative years cultivating a passion for birding on this land and in the surrounding area, and he has spent his adulthood looking across at the Assabet River Bluff from the windows of his home while writing more than 15 books on wildlife, including the National Audubon Society’s Regional Field Guide Series. Peter has noted a variety of birds that pass through and can be seen and heard during different seasons, including Great Crested Flycatchers, Broad-winged Hawks, Wood Pewees, Warbling Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Pileated Woodpeckers and Great Horned Owls. The riparian landscape supports Hooded and Common Mergansers, other ducks, Great Blue Herons, and even minks and otters.

On the banks. Photo by SVT

Wild and Scenic Rivers. In 1999, Congress designated 29 miles of the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers as Scenic and Recreational Rivers under the national Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, including the segment of the Assabet River next to the Assabet River Bluff. The designation protects against adverse projects that are federally funded or permitted (and so did not pertain to a residential development). The relevance of the designation is that all the participating towns – including Concord — supported the goal of protecting the values for which the rivers were designated: their scenic, recreational, wildlife, cultural and historic character, and signed on to a management plan to accomplish that.

Intermittent stream. Photo provided by SVT

What protections are afforded under the Wetlands Protection Act?

The Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and Concord’s own wetlands bylaw regulate activity near wetlands and rivers. The Assabet River Bluff has a narrow band of vegetated wetlands and flood plain along its shore, but is primarily protected as a Riverfront Area. As such, the first 100’ of setback from the river is protected from development while the second or outer 100’ is susceptible to some development: up to 5,000 sf or 10% of the parcel’s buildable acreage within the 200’ Riverfront Area, whichever is greater. Here, that would be about 13,000 square feet or 1/3 of an acre. Now permanently conserved, none of the outer Riverfront Area will ever be developed.

There is also an intermittent stream which follows the south property line of 2B Upland. In accordance with the Natural Resources Commission’s “No Build Policy,” no development can take place in the first 50’ setback from the stream; however, limited development could be considered in the second 50’, pending NRC approval. With the campaign’s success, protection of the full 100’ buffer is guaranteed.


Native American Presence

According to the archaeological record, Indigenous groups were present at this location during the Late Archaic Period (ca. 6000 – 3000 B.P.). In the collection of Adams Tolman (1862-1920), a Concord historian and collector of Native American artifacts, were two artifacts from “near the O.C.R.R. [Old Colony Rail Road] bridge” which local archaeologist, Shirley Blancke, infers to be on or near Parcel B (2B Upland Road). One of the artifacts is a Mansion Inn Blade and is “very significant” according to Blancke. These medium to large triangular stemmed points are associated with burials. The other artifact is a small projectile point of the Small Stemmed Point tradition (also called Narrow Stemmed Tradition), and were ubiquitous throughout southern New England.

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