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Parker River/Essex Bay Area of Critical Environmental Concern
Portions of Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, Essex, and Gloucester were given special recognition by designation as an (ACEC) in 1979. The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) assists communities in coastal ACECs in coordination with the Department of Conservation and Recreation who administers the ACEC Program.
What makes an area so special (ACEC boundary PDF, 30K) that local officials in five North Shore towns gather together and nominate it as the Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC?
Drive along roads of the North Shore, walk along the quiet trails, or take a boat ride through the network of tidal rivers and creeks to appreciate the beautiful expanse of salt marsh that stretches to the horizon in all directions. If you stop to look and listen, you will hear the call of migratory birds, see striped bass and alewife in the waters, and catch the wind blowing salt marsh hay which changes colors depending on the time of day or seasons.
Talk to residents who have lived and worked in the marsh and you will find that the natural resources here have more than just aesthetic and environmental value - they are also tied to their economy, health, and recreational activities. Commercial shellfish harvesters depend on the area's clam flats, while beach-goers, boaters, and fishers flock to the region seeking activity and relaxation.
This area on the North Shore was special long before the ACEC designation came along. Historically, the beauty of this region inspired conservation minded citizens who later named this area the "Great Marsh". The Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC is only a portion of the Great Marsh that extends from Salisbury to Gloucester. With this expanse of wetlands, North Shore residents can proudly say that they have the largest continuous acreage of salt marsh in New England right in their own backyard.
When you put all of these things together…the sights, sounds, wildlife, open spaces, and people living and working in this region, it becomes a complex and beautiful place; the reasons for wanting to protect it become simple and clear. The Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC became the second ACEC designated in the state with over 25,500 acres of barrier beach, salt marsh, and water bodies. The ACEC designation highlights the area as having significant natural resources and helps to ensure greater levels of environmental protection and stewardship. The few conservation minded citizens have now grown to teams of federal and state agencies, local officials, and non-profit organizations working together to address concerns such as water quality and habitat degradation, shellfish bed closures, fish and bird migration, loss of open space, and growth management in the region.
For two years a fellowship project through NOAA's Coastal Services Center and CZM was dedicated to improving stewardship efforts in the ACEC. The goal of the fellowship project was to "expand and coordinate current resource management efforts in the Parker River/Essex Bay ACEC by developing management tools and strategies and increasing local support and stewardship of ACEC resources". For these two years, the fellow worked on the education, resource and management assessments, and technical assistance projects highlighted in this website. The fellowship project, along with the dedication of scientists doing research, locals working as tireless volunteers, conservation groups advocating for resource protection, and mangers coordinating stewardship efforts, help to protect natural resources in the ACEC.
Outreach and Education