Total Acres: 265
Year Conserved: Multiple
A Conservation Partnership
The Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary is a unique conservation partnership between Greenbelt and Mass Audubon that came to fruition in 2012. Rough Meadows connects key parcels of protected lands owned by Greenbelt and Mass Audubon, which are adjacent to parcels held by Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game, the Town of Rowley, The Trustees of Reservations and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Through our combined efforts Rough Meadows is now a permanent part of Rowley’s open space heritage, serving the region as a protected sanctuary for walking and nature exploration.
The Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses 265 acres of spectacular coastal oak woodlands, salt marshes, tidal creeks, and salt pannes. The Sanctuary connects over 8,000 acres in a mosaic of protected land and wildlife habitat within the Great Marsh Ecosystem. The Sanctuary supports an astonishing diversity of plants and animals, including rare and endangered species. It also serves as critical migratory bird habitat and important breeding grounds for many species of birds, fish, and crustaceans.
The Great Marsh
The Great Marsh is the largest salt marsh ecosystem in New England and includes over 20,000 acres of marshes, barrier beaches, tidal rivers, estuaries, mudflats, and upland islands extending across the Massachusetts North Shore, from Gloucester to southern New Hampshire. In recognition of these extraordinary resources, much of this area has been designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Great Marsh is also internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA), contributing to the habitat needs of more than 300 species of breeding and migratory birds.
A Recreational Paradise
The sanctuary is an outstanding destination to enjoy hiking, picnicking, bird watching, wildlife photography, and general nature study. From the parking area, one can access a series of marked trails that traverse the oak forest uplands and skirt the salt marsh, all highlighting the Sanctuary’s unique natural features, including scenic overlooks, and viewing areas. Portions of the trail may be uneven and may be wet during spring thaw or heavy rain.
Professor Chandler’s Long Walk:
This is the main trail on the Sanctuary and leads to the eastern-most part of the sanctuary where walkers have a spectacular view of the salt marsh. It is named in honor of Professor Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., whose conservation vision protected most of this land. The salt marsh portion of this trail floods at high tide. Please plan your visit accordingly.
A short trail that passes through a field along the edge of a woodland and offers a view into the salt marsh.
Part of a loop with Professor Chandler’s Long Walk, passes through a mixed forest where Sassafras trees are common.
Another loop off Professor Chandler’s Long Walk, meanders through an oak/hickory forest along the edge of the salt marsh.
Named in honor of Appy Chandler who helped make Professor Chandler’s vision a reality, leads to a small hill from which walkers can view the salt marsh, a tidal creek, and salt pannes.
Sawyer's Island was conserved by Essex County Greenbelt in 1990 and became part of the 265-acre Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in 2012. The Sanctuary connects over 8,000 acres in a mosaic of protected land and wildlife habitat within the Great Marsh Ecosystem, supporting an astonishing diversity of plants and animals, including rare and endangered species. It also serves as critical migratory bird habitat and important breeding grounds for many species of birds, fish, and crustaceans.
The site of the former Salem Fraternity Boys Camp, the island is bordered by Sawyer’s Island Creek and Mud Creek, which curves around its northern end and offers a perfect launch site for a kayak or canoe. The island consists of open field with wooded edges and is bordered by salt marsh. Stands of oak and hickory on the northwest edge of the island provide a lovely sheltered picnic area. The views in every direction are spectacular and include an active Osprey nesting platform. A portion of the island - though protected by a conservation restriction- is still privately owned, and we ask that you respect the fence-marked boundary.
Access to Sawyer’s Island:
From the Sanctuary parking area, use Patmos Road to either hike or drive the one mile route to access Sawyer’s Island. Please use caution when walking along Patmos Road. Parking at Sawyer’s Island is limited to two vehicles.
For Your Safety:
- Obey posted regulations.
- Carry out what you carry in.
- Use between sunrise and sunset only.
- Motorized vehicles are not permitted.
- Dog–walkers please pick up after your pets.
- Hunting is allowed on adjacent salt marsh areas. During the fall and winter hunting seasons, we recommend you wear bright clothing and stay on the marked trails.
- Take precautions to reduce your exposure to ticks and other insects.
- Learn to identify poison ivy and avoid it. Thoroughly wash your skin and clothing immediately after exposure.
- A portion of the island is privately owned and protected by Greenbelt with a conservation restriction. We ask that you respect the fence-marked boundary.
Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary is located along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, part of the congressionally designated Essex National Heritage Area. The Area’s extensive historic, cultural and natural resources tell the story of the region’s role in the nation’s early settlement, maritime trade and industrialization.
Get Out and Paddle
Terrain: Tidal, marsh, open ocean
Distance: 1-6 hours
Best months: October or November, when the insects have departed, and when you can float among the scoters, long-tailed ducks, goldeneyes, mergansers, and possibly harbor seals.
Launch your boat into Mud Creek. There are endless opportunities for exploring. If you’re feeling ambitious, cruise through Plum Island Sound and out to open ocean. Or stay inland and explore the Parker River Wildlife Refuge in the Great Marsh.
There are two options for parking. You can park at the main lot (10 vehicle limit) by taking the first left off Stackyard Road onto Patmos Road. You will come to the parking lot on your left in one quarter mile. Or you can continue past the main lot for another mile to the end of Patmos Road. Park along the left edge of the turnaround. Do not block private drive to the right of the property entrance.
From the traffic light in Rowley Center:
Drive north on Route 1A for about two miles. Turn right onto a dirt road marked Stackyard Road. You will see a hanging "Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary" sign at this intersection. Take the first left onto Patmos Road and park in one of the lots described above.