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Located just 40 miles west of Boston, the 1,667-acre refuge lies along almost eight miles of the Nashua River in north-central Massachusetts. Within its boundary is a diverse array of habitats beneficial to wildlife: wetlands, forested uplands, old fields, oxbow ponds, and, of course, the river itself. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manage the refuge for a variety of wildlife species, with a special emphasis on migratory waterfowl and birds that are dependent on grass/shrub land habitat.

In 1917, Camp Devens was established, later to become Fort Devens. The Fort was carved from the towns of Harvard, Lancaster, Ayer and Shirley. Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge was established through a number of land transfers from the Department of Defense to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service beginning in 1974. The Service acquired an additional 120 acres in the Town of Harvard in 2001 and will continue to work with partners to protect additional wildlife habitat in the area.