Cleaning up the Charles River and its Public Image


Article in Drive The District

Here in Boston, the snow is evaporating from the streets and although warmer weather seems distant, the sun is starting to shine and people are already daydreaming about what they’ll be doing this summer.

While some locals may flock to the Cape for some fun in the sun and others may plan a relaxing weekend trip to Maine, we’re here to provide you with some pleasantly surprising news about the water that nobody dare touches: The Charles River.

You see, the Charles River is kind of a big deal in Boston. If you’re not familiar with the area, think of it as the ‘Hudson’ of New York- maybe not the same in terms of water size, but definitely as notorious in terms of famous city landmarks.

During the summer, you’ll see tons of rowers, boaters, kayakers and paddle boaters floating a top the water. In addition, there is a huge population of Bostonians that value the importance of physical fitness and prefer to run along the water as their choice of exercise venue.

Aside from that however, there is a slim chance you will find any swimming enthusiasts within the water, as the Charles River has been ingrained into everyone’s minds of being a huge body of sewage pollution. To that end, the city does not allow public swimming in the Charles outside of its newly-designated swimming events.

For the first time in over sixty years, the negative notion of the Charles River being unswimmable, is being rehabilitated thanks to the Charles River Conservancy,   a non-profit organization located just outside of downtown Boston in Cambridge, Mass.

Dedicated to the stewardship, renewal, and enhancement of the urban parklands alongside the Charles River, the Conservancy has created the ‘swimmable Charles initiative,’ in which they have dedicated themselves to create opportunities for community swims in the Charles River for public enjoyment.

From awareness of combined areas where there may be heavy metals, to restoring the river embankment free from trash and hazardous materials, the Conservancy is committed to raising awareness of the Charles’ budding cleanliness.

In partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and the Charles River swimming club, the Conservancy hosted the first public community swim in the Charles River in more than fifty years just last summer, 2013.

Over 150 interested swimmers jumped off of the Boston Esplanade dock into the EPA-graded ‘B+’ quality water, a wonderful increase from its ‘D’ rating in 1995. To no great surprise, many of the participants never thought they could actually swim the Charles River.

With this groundbreaking initiative, and its passion to identify other deep-water dock locations that may be fitting for public swimming, the Conservancy is determined to generate additional swimming areas within the greater Boston area for public use.

As the Conservancy continues to stress to the public that the Charles River has improved immensely, it’s evident that ongoing cleanup will contribute to the trending of the Charles’ cleanliness. Despite the dramatic improvements to the water quality of the Charles, there are still significant benchmarks that must be met, including diminishing the sediment contamination, where heavy metals may populate.

Based on this, the Conservancy has created its volunteer program, in which those interested, are given the opportunity to positively contribute to the watershed. From removing invasive species, to trimming brush and trash cleanup, there are many projects meant to continue the restoration along the water.

Since 2002, more than 22,000 conservancy volunteers have contributed their time and efforts to improve the health, safety, and beauty of the Charles River parklands.

The Conservancy urges locals to do their part in deterring additional pollution into the Charles, including picking up trash, proper disposal of motor oil, as well as choosing a car wash service as opposed to washing their own car by hand.

If you are interested in learning more about The Conservancy, the swimmable Charles initiative or how you can help in volunteering, please visit The Charles River Conservancy website today.

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