The Taunton River is perhaps the most diverse and intact coastal riverine ecosystem in all of southern New England. The Taunton River is the only major coastal river in the region that is without a dam or obstruction over its entire length. The river is formed at the confluence of the Matfield and Town Rivers in Bridgewater and, along with its extensive network of tributaries, drains an area of 562 square miles. It also is the largest freshwater contributor to the Narragansett Bay estuary in Rhode Island, part of the National Estuary Program.
March 30, 2009. The main stem of the Taunton River from its headwaters at the confluence of the Town and Matfield Rivers in the Town of Bridgewater downstream 40 miles to its confluence with the Quequechan River at the Route 195 Bridge in the city of Fall River.
The Taunton River is one of the most intact ecosystems in New England, and many of its habitats and species are ranked as global conservation targets. This unfragmented habitat from headwaters to the bay is regionally significant and hosts species found nowhere else in Massachusetts. The corridor supports 31 distinct wildlife habitats and is inhabited by 3 globally rare plants. Globally rare plants in the watershed include Long's bulrush, Long's bitter-cress, and Eaton's beggar-ticks.
The Taunton River is the longest undammed coastal river in New England and provides excellent habitat for all life stages of fish. The estuary is particularly valued for its nursery habitat for fish, such as winter flounder and tautog, as well as for its large anadromous fish runs, particularly river herring. The Taunton River supports about 45 species of fish and many species of shellfish. The Taunton River is extremely important in providing foraging, nursery, and migratory habitat for many species of fish.
Tributaries of the Taunton River were ideally suited to colonial and early industrial development, as the streams and rivers provided power sources for mills, forges, and other industrial pursuits and the Taunton River itself provided excellent opportunity to transport goods to market.
The fertile soils of the Taunton River's post-glacial landscape helped to make this watershed one of the earliest and largest settlement areas for the early Native People. The Taunton River and its environs provided a wide range of rich natural resources to support a sizeable prehistoric population. Some of the most important sites are in the Bridgewater and Middleborough area of the Taunton River, where a number of large, multi-component sites containing a high volume of artifacts and a diversity of features have been found.
The Taunton River and its tributaries offer outstanding recreational opportunities, both on the water and along the shoreline where trails and parks allow for enjoyment of the scenic and natural beauty of the river.
Above the city of Taunton, the river meanders through a narrow corridor and offers excellent opportunities for paddlers. Paddlers can put in and take out boats at several points along the river, although some of these sites present difficult access (narrow paths, steep slopes, and parking issues). The most used access points are located next to bridges.
On the lower river, sportfishing is a popular activity. Boats can be launched at several boat ramps, and fishing is also popular from many of the wharves along the river as well as under the Brightman Street Bridge. On the lower river, the primary sportfish are striped bass and bluefish, while in the middle and upper river largemouth bass is popular.
The riverbanks of the upper Taunton River have remained naturally vegetated with a wide buffer in many places. Through a coordinated effort by the Commonwealth, local towns, private landowners, and local and regional land trusts, the riverfront and a dense buffer of vegetation have been preserved. The wide tidal estuary provides beautiful scenic vistas over saltmarsh and open water and can be seen from trails, parks, local roads, and scenic bridges, such as the beautiful Berkley-Dighton Bridge, the oldest swing bridge in the state.
The corridor is home to seven rare reptiles and amphibians. The corridor is home to 12 rare bird species. The marsh segments of the Taunton River support high concentrations of marsh nesting birds, including kingfishers, ospreys, and several species of herons. Endangered birds have been recorded including the American bittern, king rail, and pied billed grebe.