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(Sara Brown for Boston.com)

Children rush to break in the new Esplanade playspace that opened Friday.

By Sara Brown, Town Correspondent

Just a few years after neighborhood parents united to create a play area for older children, little feet scaled the climbing structure and little hands gripped the zip line at the new Esplanade Playspace.

A private group, Friends of the Esplanade Playspace, footed the $1.5 million bill for the play area, and have also raised money for its maintenance, after noting a lack of playgrounds for children between 5 and 12 years old.

On Friday afternoon, scores of children (and their parents) braved the cold to inaugurate the play area.

Charlie, 7, said he was “totally ” excited for the “ginormous slide,” while Isabella, 5, said she could have play dates at the park.

“Can they open it right now?” asked Lily, 3, who said she wanted to try a spin on that big blue slide herself.

Beacon Hill parent Laurie Dumas said her 5-year-old daughter, Emma, was already outgrowing some of the other playgrounds in the neighborhood, having mastered the monkey bars.
Just before the ribbon-cutting, state Department of Conservation and Recreation commissioner Edward Lambert and Friends of the Esplanade Playspace members Jean Egan and Tani Marinovich addressed the young, excited crowd.

“I know how anxious we are to get on the zip line,” Egan said. She said the playspace project could teach the kids some valuable lessons about not giving up, working together, and appreciating a “community that loves you.”

The play area represents a remarkable collaboration, she said, with the Friends members working with other groups, including the Department of Conservation and Recreation and The Esplanade Association, to bring the project to fruition.

Shortly afterward, kids flooded onto the playground, anxious to test out the large and enduring gift from their community.

 

POSTED BY FENWAY NEWS STAFF, Fenway News Online

 

News Release
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
New England Regional Office
International Award Recognizes Successful Ongoing Work to Clean the Charles River
(Boston) – The river in Boston’s backyard, once derided as a lost cause to pollution and visits to a doctor’s office if you fell in, was recently awarded an international prize for cleanup efforts coordinated between federal, state and local governments, private organizations and environmental advocates to improve the health of the lower Charles River.

The Charles River is the 2011 winner of the International Riverprize, recognized as one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards. The designation, bestowed by the International River Foundation’s “Thiess International Riverprize,” is awarded for visionary and sustainable excellence in river management. River projects from over 20 countries competed for this year’s award. One of the key partners in the effort to restore the Charles River to ecological health, the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), accepted the Riverprize award on Sept. 27 at the 14th International River Symposium in Brisbane, Australia.

Upon the award, the CEO of the International River Foundation, Matthew Reddy, compared the Charles to other iconic rivers of the world: “Charles River should be congratulated for their achievement; it joins the ranks of iconic rivers like the Thames,

Danube and Mekong.”

Begun in 1995, the effort to make the Charles River both “fishable” and “swimmable” as key measures for ecological health has thus far been a 17-year effort with significant contributions from the US EPA, the Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Cities of Boston and Cambridge, the Massachusetts Water Resources Agency (MWRA) and the CRWA. As this work continues, the goal of a river that is healthy and supports many recreational activities becomes closer to an everyday reality.

“This international recognition for the sustained accomplishments of our many partners speaks to a unique and excellent partnership,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “The work to clean the Charles River spans nearly two decades, and has won the support of elected and appointed officials from both political parties, three generations of EPA leadership and scores of unheralded professionals who have applied their brainpower and energy to finding solutions to the pollution problems which once plagued the Charles. We still have more work to do to ensure the Charles is a great resource for Bostonians, but we can all be proud of the work we have done.”

“In the world of river management, this is akin to winning the World Series – CRWA’s science and advocacy may have been the catalyst, but the heavy-lifting was done by EPA, MA DEP, and the cities and towns in the watershed,” said Robert L.

Zimmerman, Jr., CRWA’s Executive Director. “It’s truly a trophy, however, for the people that live and work in the communities that comprise the Charles watershed, and for everyone who loves this river.”

The Clean Charles initiative was the brainchild of former EPA New England Regional Administrator John P. DeVillars, who led EPA’s Region 1 office from 1994-2000. “The Clean Charles Initiative is a textbook model for effective collaboration between EPA, other Federal and state agencies, NGOs, and the private sector,” said DeVillars. “The results speak for themselves – a river whose polluted state was once the topic of popular song -”Love that Dirty Water” – is now a swimmable urban oasis. Hats off to all involved!!”

Following the 1990’s phase of the Clean Charles efforts, the project continued to be aggressively pursued under the leadership of Robert Varney, who was EPA Region 1 Administrator from 2001-2008. Mr. Varney said, “Congratulations to the Charles River Watershed Association for this well-deserved honor. The CRWA`s successful collaboration with government agencies and diverse stakeholders, combined with its commitment to sound science, measurement of results, public accountability and innovative solutions, provides a dynamic blueprint for river organizations across the world.”

The efforts to improve water quality in the lower Charles River reflects the coordinated efforts by government and local groups to identify sources and reduce bacteria levels, in turn making water quality safe for boaters and increasingly for swimmers. Despite remarkable progress reducing bacteria levels, there continues to be heightened concern about elevated levels of nutrients, especially phosphorus, in the Charles River. Both EPA and MassDEP are engaged in efforts to limit the discharge of phosphorus into the River.

“The Charles River is treasured natural resource for those who live, work in and visit Massachusetts. We congratulate the Watershed Association for their many stewardship efforts to revitalize this beautiful waterway and vibrant river habitat,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan. “On behalf of the Commonwealth and Governor Patrick, I want to thank our federal and local partners for helping us to protect the Charles River today and for years to come.”

The Charles has improved dramatically from the launch of EPA’s Charles River Initiative in 1995, when the river met boating standards only 39 percent of the time and swimming standards just 19 percent of the time. In 2010 (the most recent year where season-long water quality data are available), the Charles met boating standards 86 percent of the time, and swimming standards 66 percent of the time, according to data collected by the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) between Watertown Dam and Boston Harbor. The swimming percentage is the highest recorded since the EPA began grading the river in 1995.

More information:

International RiverFoundation’s Thiess Riverprize (http://www.riverfoundation.org.au/) EPA’s Charles River Initiative (http://www.epa.gov/region1/charles/index.html)

Charles River Watershed Association (http://www.crwa.org/)
– and related video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fiJk-QR3ZT0)

 

Union Park Press | October 20, 2011 | Meg Muckenhoupt

Harvard-Raft-Race_courtesy-of-HBS.edu_

Harvard Raft Race, circa 1980

Once upon a time, when I had the misfortune of assisting with an entry in the annual Charles River Raft Race for Unusually Bored Harvard Undergrads, I was informed by one of my rather moist companions that Harvard University Health Services recommended tetanus shots for anyone who had come in contact with the Charles. No one was standing at the finish line to administer said shots, and our raft didn’t make it anywhere near the finish line anyway, so I simply went home, had a hot shower, and scrubbed very, very hard.

Now, it’s the week of the Head of the Charles, and no one is talking about injecting rowers with anything at all. The Charles River is safe for boating and safe for swimming below the Massachusetts Avenue bridge most of the year, according to the Charles River Conservancy. It hasn’t always been safe to swim. Heck, the lower Charles River wasn’t even a fresh-water river until 1910.

Therein lies the tale; human intervention nearly destroyed the Charles River, and human intervention has been restoring it to  health, or at least safe swimming.

Waltham's Watch Factory along the Charles River, photo by Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe

Waltham’s Watch Factory along the Charles River, photo by Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe

The Charles River was once a free-flowing tidal estuary, with salt water tides bathing the Back Bay mud flats. Europeans changed all that. The Back Bay was filled with gravel and charming townhouses, and the Charles River Watershed Association reports that by the end of the 19th century, there were more than 43 mills along the Charles and 20 dams. The dams blocked the river’s flow, the mills dumped pollution right into the water.

Despite the river’s transformation from a seaside water course into a strong-smelling industrial waste channel, far-seeing landscape architect Charles Eliot saw that it could become Boston’s most prominent park. As the landscape architect for the Massachusetts Metropolitan Park Commission from 1892 until his death in 1897, Eliot said the Charles River was “destined to become the central ‘court of honor’ of the Metropolitan District, and “lobbied hard” to create a fresh water basin at the mouth of the Charles, according to the Esplanade Association’s history of the Charles River. After Eliot died, banker and former Harvard crew team captain James J. Storrow convinced legislators to finally finish the job and make the Charles River fresh forever by damming it in 1910.

 

Charles River Dam, built in 1978

Charles River Dam, built in 1978

But sometimes a river feels not so fresh. The mills closed, and many dams were abandoned, but in the 20th century the Charles started suffering from another problem; raw sewage. More people moved to the suburbs along the Charles, and local sewage treatment simply failed. As the Charles River Watershed Association writes,

“By the mid-1960′s the river was in sorry shape after several years of lower-than-average rainfall. Raw sewage flowed from outmoded wastewater treatment plants. Toxic discharges from industrial facilities colored the river pink and orange. Fish kills, submerged cars and appliances, leaching riverbank landfills, and noxious odors were routine occurrences.”

Over the next two decades, the Charles River started turning around (well, it still flowed downstream). The Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) was founded in 1965 to clean up this mess. Strangely enough, that was also the first year the Head of the Charles Regatta was held by members of the Cambridge Boat Club. I cannot confirm that the CRWA was founded in response to the foul conditions for the Regatta, but I do wonder.

Gentle Giant Rowing Club, photo from the Boston Globe

Gentle Giant Rowing Club, photo from the Boston Globe

 

The CRWA was energetic from the start, but it had a lot more success in getting sewage plants and industrial polluters to stop fouling the river after the federal Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. In 1974, the Army Corps of Engineers started to protect the Lower Charles from flooding by buying wetlands in the Upper Charles River, eventually acquiring 8,103 acres in Massachusetts. The final push to get the Charles River cleaner came from the Conservation Law Foundation, which sued federal and state officials in 1983 to force them to clean up Boston Harbor. You can’t clean the harbor if there’s sewage coming downstream, so state was compelled to start cleaning up Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs.)

CSOs are very simple structures that have terrible effects. In older sewer systems, the same pipes that carry sewage to wastewater treatment plants also carry storm water away from streets when it rains. If it rains too much, the pipes can’t handle the water, and the overflow goes into a CSO… and straight into the nearest pond, river, or stream. In his recent Boston Globe piece on the Charles River’s recovery, columnist Derrick Jackson writes:

“For recreational kayaker Roger Frymire, a paddle between the Museum of Science and the BU bridge 14 years ago was disgusting. ‘I passed under the Longfellow bridge and I started smelling something awful. I kept following the smell upriver until I went under the Mass. Ave. bridge. I traced the smell to a spot near the MIT crew house. There was a grate underwater that was bobbing up and down with turds.’

That’s what a CSO smells like. Frymire found 40 discharges just like that between the Watertown Dam and the Museum of Science. Frymire, the Charles River Watershed Association, the Environmental Protection Agency, and dozens of other people have worked since 1988 to get CSOs on the Charles shut down, and it’s worked; by 2013, it’s projected that annual CSO discharge into the Charles will be one half of one percent of 1988 levels.

You may not have noticed how much the river has improved, but the fish have; shad are returning to the Charles River where they haven’t lived in significant numbers since 1850. The Charles River Watershed Association is stocking them, to give the wild fish a bit of company; the Association estimates the Charles could support 30,000 shad, as long as they keep away from Boston fishermen.

Head-of-the-Charles

 

This year, the Head of the Charles Regatta anticipates 300,000 spectators watching 9,000 competitors rowing close to 2,000 boats. There will be plenty of people at the finish line, but no vaccinations–and probably no shad. If I were a fish, I’d head for the Upper Charles until all the boats, the crowds, and garbage-eating gulls are long gone. Personally, though, I haven’t acted like a fish in the Charles since my last Raft Race, so I’ll try to get there and see the lovely river in its beautiful, clean, completely unnatural state.

Meg Muckenhoupt is the author of Boston’s Gardens & Green SpacesFor more information about the Head of the Charles Regatta, scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday (October 22-23),see this blog post from the 2010 Regatta. Information is all the same, just swap in those 2011 dates!

 

By Penny Cherubino

Do your weekend plans include joining the 300,000 spectators who will line the riverbanks for the Head of the Charles Regatta? It is fun to watch the athletes in action and enjoy the colorful aspects of the event. Here’s a bit of information about the race and the sport of rowing.

History

Crew or competitive rowing has been a part of the Charles River scene since 1844 when members of Harvard’s

class of ‘46 purchased an 8-oared boat and organized the first Harvard Boat Club. On the Boston side of the river, the Union Boat Club was founded in 1841. Collegiate women joined the action when Wellesley College organized a rowing program in 1875.

The Regatta

The Head of the Charles Regatta, first held in 1965, is now the world’s largest two-day rowing event. The competitors you see passing on the river are not racing one another side-by-side. In a “head” race, each boat is timed and the fastest time wins.

The starting line is opposite Boston University’s DeWolfe Boathouse. The finish line is 3.2 miles up river by Herter Park. This is also where boats launch for the race. Once on the water, the crews row along the Boston shore and circle in a waiting area, just west of the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, until they’re called to begin their race.

The racers compete for prizes in many categories. Boats are grouped by the number of rowers onboard- singles, doubles, fours, and eights. All eights include a coxswain who doesn’t row but is responsible for steering and giving race commands. Some fours also have this additional crew member. There are divisions for men, women, and mixed crews, and for collegiates, masters, youth, and other special groupings.

Nine thousand rowers will have to learn the ins-and-outs of the course and the rules that make this race a model for safety and sportsmanship. The large number of boats on the river, six bridges, and the curving course make completing this race, without incident or penalty, challenging. Penalties for infractions, like going off course or interfering with another boat, are added to a crew’s time and can hurt a winning effort.

Beyond the Race Itself

This October happening has a festival atmosphere with a Rowing and Fitness Expo and a carnival of food vendors.

Reunions along the river are a race tradition. Organizers call “The Reunion Village” a place for, “clubs, schools, alumni groups, parents, boosters and ‘Friends’ to connect and enjoy themselves.” Elsewhere along the river, you’ll see tents erected and blankets spread as people gather informally to enjoy the race, the season, and old friends.

This will also be a weekend of volunteerism and charitable giving. More than 1500 volunteers assist with the race. And, since 1998, the event’s charity program has raised more than $800,000.

At the the Head of the Charles Regatta’s official website (www.hocr.org) you can learn more about the history of the race and the sport of rowing.

 

 
  • By Pin-Yu Chen, Beacon Hill Times

The Charles River, once considered an open sewer, has turned around to such a degree that the group largely responsible for its clean-up just won the largest environmental prize in the world.

The Charles River Watershed Association bested projects from more than 20 countries to snag the 2011 International Riverprize, the prestigious environmental award for maintenance and sustainable implementation in river management, in Brisbane, Australia, Sept. 27.

Along with the award came a cash check for $250,000 and a $100,000 grant to share its river restoration expertise with a river organization in another country.

“The CRWA will use the prize money to invest in our major programs: Blue Cities and Blue Cities Exchange, dealing with remediating the impacts of storm water, smart sewering, and our monitoring and computer modeling work,” said Robert L. Zimmerman Jr., the CRWA’s executive director.

The Charles River was once notorious for its high level of pollutants but is today safe for boating 90 percent of the time, largely thanks to the efforts of the CRWA in 1965. The group cooperates with government agencies and citizen groups to protect, preserve and enhance the Charles River and its watershed.

“The association is the catalyst behind every major development concerning the Charles and its restoration,” Zimmerman said.page1image14488

The river is now heralded as the cleanest urban river in the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the association.

“The river’s renaissance is due to the hard work and dedication of organizations such as the Charles River Watershed Association, in partnership with federal, state and city agencies, and it is gratifying to see that success recognized by this prestigious international competition,” Gov. Deval Patrick is quoted as saying on the CRWA website.

The Riverprize also means a lot to Beacon Hill residents. “Probably the most important thing is that it helps CRWA continue to do the research and develop the solutions that will improve and restore the river, even in Boston, right out Beacon Hill’s front door,” Zimmerman said.

 

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe

IT WAS unthinkable 20 years ago that the Charles River would ever be clean enough to win the world’s leading environmental prize for river restoration. Back then, human feces lapped at the Museum of Science. It was a river with “belly-up fish and algal blooms making dogs sick,’’ recalled Arleen O’Donnell, former state department of environmental protection acting commissioner.

For recreational kayaker Roger Frymire, a paddle between the Museum of Science and the BU bridge 14 years ago was disgusting. “I passed under the Longfellow bridge and I started smelling something awful. I kept following the smell upriver until I went under the Mass. Ave. bridge. I traced the smell to a spot near the MIT crew house. There was a grate underwater that was bobbing up and down with turds.’’

Today, the Charles is one of the nation’s cleanest urban rivers, and recently claimed the International River Foundation’s top award for river management, beating out more than 20 other countries. The award went to the Charles River Watershed Association, which was formed in 1965 to protect the river.

“The Charles in many ways is a wild river again,’’ said Bob Zimmerman, executive director of the CRWA. “If you had asked me in 1991 if that was possible, I would have said you were crazy.’’

The award provides a great moment to see what can happen when degradation spurs people to action. Former Governor Michael Dukakis remembered last week the collective shrug of the shoulder when Havey Beach in West Roxbury was closed to swimming in the 1950s. “There were no protests, no nothing,’’ Dukakis said. “The city itself was deteriorating, the town was racist and anti-Semitic. State government was corrupt. It was an angry place. The river was so polluted, it kind of symbolized the time.’’

The times for the river changed when the likes of Rita Barron, CRWA’s executive director for most of the 1970s and ’80s, worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to preserve Charles wetlands instead of just building flood control dams. Meanwhile, O’Donnell, deciding that the state’s highest-profile river was “an embarrassment to the Commonwealth,’’ pressed for reclassifying the Charles so polluters could face consequences.

“Somebody from MWRA [Massachusetts Water Resources Authority] told me that if we put in new water quality standards for the Charles, the ‘chickens will come home to roost,’ ’’ O’Donnell said. “I was told, ‘You are going to be hung out to dry by this standard that you can’t reach.’ ’’

The state’s environmental secretary at the time, John

DeVillars, took reclassification to another level when he became regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. He launched a 10-year mission to make the Charles swimmable by 2005 and began issuing annual report cards on its water quality. “There was something about establishing a goal, timetable, and a measure of accountability that helped turned the tide,’’ DeVillars said.

Towns whose sewage outflows emptied into the river as well as offending corporations were held accountable for violations, most notably the fines levied against Conrail in 1995. Pollution from its Allston rail yard resulted in $2.5 million in criminal penalties, including a record $1.5 million under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. In a move to restore public relations, Conrail also gave $250,000 to CRWA to build a water testing lab.  How the CRWA came to be the recipient was a story by itself.

“A snaggle-toothed guy with bad breath came to my office,’’ Zimmerman said. “I listened to him talk about the river for half an hour. I didn’t think anything about it, but then came the Conrail headline and the money for us. It turned out that the snaggle-toothed guy was the fly-fishing writer from Sports Illustrated and he went fly fishing with senior officials of Conrail on the Rappahannock River [in Virginia]. I guess Conrail was trying to figure out what to do and they mentioned this to him and he said, ‘No question you should give the money to these guys.’ ’’

The very next summer, rowers began regularly calling the CRWA about horrible smells that turned out to be giant grease balls and collapsed sewer pipes. Armed with the new lab, Kate Bowditch, who is now director of projects at CRWA, and then-lab manager Jim Fitzgerald began to take samples. Meanwhile, Frymire’s sewage discovery near MIT became a personal mission, and he found 30 to 40 pollution sources in the Charles between the Watertown dam and the Museum of Science. CRWA trained him to take samples. It never became routine. Recalling one time he reached for a sample at the spot of a vomitive smell, Frymire said, “My whole body just started shuddering. I knew what I was reaching for. But if I didn’t, how long would it have stayed that way?’’

As Frymire reached for samples, people like Bill Walsh-Rogalski, a longtime attorney in the EPA’s New England office, reached for the law. Walsh-Rogalski’s office today overflows with charts, maps, and graphs that detail the progress that has been made by shutting down illegal sewage sources and repairing antiquated systems. By 2013, combined sewer overflow discharges into the Charles will have been reduced 99.5 percent from their levels in 1988.

“When we started, the attitude was, ‘So what, even if we fix our pipes, what about the next town?’ ’’ Walsh- Rogalski said. “But one by one, people started believing, and we hit that tipping point where people remembered that their grandmothers swam in the Charles and wanted that for themselves again.’’

Another visible tipping point of the Charles is the wildlife. The river now hosts otters, beavers, fishers, herons, hawks, herring, and migrating loons. Maury Eldridge, one of the river’s most dedicated kayaking photographers, says it has become more a “national park or wildlife sanctuary than an urban/suburban river.’’

Still, major challenges remain, such as phosphorus runoffs from car exhaust, fertilizers, and animal waste, which can cause toxic algal blooms. But the lessons of the Charles have inspired and informed river cleanups in the state and throughout the nation. Frymire is today most frequently at work on the Mystic River, where he says he has seen at least 50 source problems.

And while EPA’s report card on the Charles has improved from a D in 1996 to a B+ today, and while the river is technically swimmable on most days, the soil on the bottom remains laden with PCBs and toxic heavy metals. Removal is way beyond today’s strapped state and federal budgets.

Still, the Charles River Conservancy, which has worked hard over the last decade to beautify and improve the parklands and pathways along the Charles, has suggested swimming pavilions similar to ones in European cities.

“Swimming would be a real beacon,’’ DeVillars said. “I hope we find some vision around that instead of worrying if the budget has money for lifeguards. The final chapter is access into the river itself. It would be the crowning achievement of what government, the private sector, individual citizens, and advocacy groups can do.’’

So long a pauper among rivers, the Charles is now one of the greatest American civic accomplishments of the last 50 years. That in itself is a crowning achievement.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.

 

By Sara Brown, Boston Globe Town Correspondent

A neglected part of the Charles River Esplanade honoring Charles Eliot is set to receive an overhaul, creating a more fitting tribute to the man who created the Metropolitan Park System.

A renovation plan, co-funded by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and The Esplanade Association, would add seating and new trees to a stretch of the Esplanade by Community Boating that houses the Eliot Memorial, a rectangular shaped monument to one of the architects of the park system.

The rehabilitation is a “very important project to us about a much used and very public part of the Esplanade,” said Sylvia Salas, executive director of the Esplanade Association.

The more than $50,000 in design fees will be funded jointly by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Esplanade Association, and funding for the site construction, which will cost between $300,000 and $5000,000, has yet to be determined. Construction on the project would take place over spring and fall 2012.

Rick Corsi, project manager for the DCR, said the project would include the installation of new trees, shrubs, and irrigation, improvements to soil conditions and the lawn, a reconstruction of paths and the entry to Community Boating, and cleaning and adding seating to the monument.

The renovation is “a simple project that does a lot of really good things,” said Rob Adams, a senior associate with Halvorson design.

Invasive Norway maple trees will be removed and replaced with new trees, Adams said, and a lost shrub layer will be introduced, restoring part of the Esplanade to conditions planned by Arthur Shurcliff in the 1930s.

The project will also add bicycle parking to the area, as well as adding water and electricity that could pave the way for food service trucks.

After the renovation, the entrance to Community Boating will be “more welcoming, more attractive, Adams said, and it will also create potential for an outdoor classroom at Community Boating.

The statue will be emblazoned with a map showing the breadth of Metropolitan Park System, the organization Eliot, the son of a Harvard president, founded in 1893. The park system falls within a 15-mile radius from the Boston State House, stretching from Quincy to Waltham to Lynn.

 

by Keith Regan, Holliston Patch

The Charles River Watershed Association has won a major international environmental prize.

The following release is from the Charles River Watershed Association

The Charles River, once the scourge of Boston epitomized in the Standell’s rock and roll classic “Dirty Water,” is the 2011 winner of the International Riverprize, the world’s most prestigious environmentalaward, the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) announced.

The International RiverFoundation’s (IRF) Thiess (pronounced “Teese”) International Riverprize, is awarded for visionary and sustainable excellence in river management.

Projects from more than 20 countries competed for this year’s Riverprize; CRWA accepted the award, the largest environmental prize in the world and a check for $250,000, at the 14th International River Symposium in Brisbane, Australia on Sept. 27.

In addition to the cash award, CRWA also received a $100,000 grant to share its river restoration expertise with a riverorganization in another country.

In 1965, when CRWA was founded, the Charles was an open sewer: tetanus shots and antibiotics were standard treatment for anyone unfortunate enough to fall in.

Today, the Charles is heralded as the cleanest urban river inthe United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Riverprize recognizes and rewards this rejuvenation.“In the world of river management, this is akin to winning the World Series—and it was madepossible through the engagement, cooperation and hard work of hundreds of partners‐ at the federal, state,local and grassroots levels,” said Robert L. Zimmerman, Jr., CRWA’s Executive Director. “In the end, however, it’s a trophy for the people that live and work in the communities that comprise the Charles watershed, and foreveryone who loves this river.”

IRF CEO Matthew Reddy says “Charles River should be congratulated for their achievement; it joins the ranks of iconic rivers like the Thames, Danube and Mekong.”

“CRWA has fought for decades to bring the Charles back to life. This urban river is well on the path to recovery,and CRWA deserves great credit for raising awareness of the river’s problems; for pushing, pulling, and proddinggovernments at all levels; and for building the tools and testing the solutions to restore the river,” said Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator EPA New England.

“The Charles River is a resource cherished by Boston area residents, and an icon enjoyed by visitors from aroundthe world,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “The river’s renaissance is due to the hard work and dedication of organizations such as the Charles River Watershed Association, in partnership with federal, state and cityagencies, and it is gratifying to see that success recognized by this prestigious international competition.”

The Charles River is now safe for boating 90 percent of the time due to the dramatic improvements in water quality, and well over a million people enjoy the river and its parklands each year.

CRWA will use the priz emoney to continue to improve and protect the health of the Charles through fisheries restoration, water‐ sensitive design, and development of tools and practical solutions to watershed problems, including the growing problem of nutrients carried by stormwater to the river.

About this column: Contributor Corner features items posted or submitted by our readers. We don’t want you to miss them in the announcement section, so we’re highlighting them here. Submit your own announcements, and you, too, could be featured in this space.

 

Posted by Matt Rocheleau, the Boston Globe

The following is a traffic advisory from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation about the John W. Weeks pedestrian bridge that runs above the Charles River connecting access from Soldiers Field Road in Allston to Memorial Drive in Cambridge:

Beginning Sept. 20, 2011, the Department of Conservation and Recreation will initiate work on the Weeks Footbridge to repair the original limestone balustrade handrails and replace a portion of the navigational lights above each arch on both the upstream and downstream sides of the bridge. This work is expected to conclude in mid- to late- January, 2012.

Given the historic nature of the footbridge, DCR has been coordinating with the Cambridge Historic Commission, the Boston Landmarks Commission, and the Massachusetts Historic Commission.

At any given time, half of the footbridge will remain open to the public for use during the construction project. In addition, navigational access will be maintained through at least two of the three arches at all times during construction. DCR is working with the contractor in an effort to schedule the single arch closures during October, November and December in a sequence that minimizes impacts for rowing and boaters. This schedule will be posted on DCR’s website by October 1.

To accommodate for the Head of the Charles event in mid-October, all work on the footbridge will be suspended, and full public access temporarily restored while the event is taking place.

It is anticipated that a barge will be staged in the Charles River in order to complete the necessary work and to provide the necessary containment. In addition, a containment system made of netting will also be installed to prevent any debris from entering the Charles River.

Per Coast Guard requirements, the barge will be equipped with navigational lights and positioned and anchored to the side of the river during non-working hours.These immediate investments in railing and lighting repairs are a first step in a larger, multi-phase renovation and restoration of the Weeks Footbridge that DCR expects to unveil to the public through a public process and to commence in the Spring of 2012.

 

Plans to revive Watertown’s riverfront are ready, but money’s in short supply

By Jaclyn Reiss, Globe Correspondent

A lanky man sits on a park bench, looking out over the water. He delicately maneuvers his fishing pole, slowly wrapping up after a long morning of throwing his line into the Charles River and coming up empty-handed. Disappointed, he said he regretted trying his luck at this spot in Watertown.

“I should have gone to Crystal Lake in Newton,’’ said the lifetime Watertown resident, Kenny Caccitello, pointing out that waterside parks in Newton and Waltham feature more luxurious grounds and fishing options. “I almost never come here.’’

Caccitello is not the only Watertown resident to notice his community’s run-down waterfront parks. Local leaders, officials and constituents have been pushing a proposal that calls for $2 million in funding from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to build walking and biking pathways, clean up debris, create scenic waterfront views, clarify informational signs, and construct a dock area on the river between North Beacon Street and Galen Street.

Despite the proposal’s widespread support and high priority, there is no money to start renovations, according to the state agency’s Charles River Basin project manager, Rick Corsi.

“If we had the funds to build it, we’d move forward with it,’’ Corsi said. “It’s been an area of the Charles River Basin that has needed attention for a number of years. The only thing holding us back is lack of money.’’

Corsi said he did not know whether or when funds for the project – which would take approximately 12 months to finish – would come through.

“That’s the sticky part – funding has been so tight in the Commonwealth the past few years, we really can’t speculate on when funds would become available right now,’’ he said. “But it’s good to have a project that’s ready to go out to bid. It’s already designed, we would just need to play catch up.’’

While the DCR waits for funding, some Watertown leaders have come up with their own plans to revitalize the waterfront.The Watertown Community Foundation has hired Jennifer Ross, a recent Brandeis University master’s program graduate, to work part-time as Watertown’s riverfront coordinator to stimulate interest, awareness, and activity along the Charles.

“There are some areas in Watertown where the riverfront is run down – there are trails eroding and obstructed views,’’ Ross said.

“These areas are not utilized as much because they’re not as accessible. There are not a lot of picnic tables and park benches, so we want to build that up.’’

Compared with other municipalities in the vicinity, Ross said, the Watertown riverfront falls short in vigorous activities.

“I’m sure people use the riverfront on an individual basis, but if you’re comparing it to Cambridge – where the river is really prioritized by the town of Cambridge – people can appreciate and use it, and bike and run along that area,’’ she said.

Ross says it’s time to make revitalization of the waterfront more of a priority for Watertown residents. She intends to help in that effort by doling out nine $500 grants provided by the foundation to organized groups that would use the space.

“The idea is to make it a more organized effort to build a sense of community at the riverfront,’’ she said.

“It could be for a yoga instructor’s salary for classes, or for organizations to have an intergenerational picnic. The idea is to get people down on the riverfront, and have attention brought to areas that need to be revitalized.’’

Ross said that improving the waterfront would not only serve people who enjoy the outdoors, it would help bring a greater sense of community to Watertown.

“There would be social activities, and educational uses like nature walks,’’ she said. “There’s so much history in Watertown. It’s creating more of a sense of community, which is important to residents as well.’’

Another supporter of the the waterfront’s revitalization, Perkins School for the Blind president Steven Rothstein, has worked since 2007 with town councilors, waterfront advocates, and other local leaders to help draft the DCR proposal.

“Right now, there’s no crosswalk for over a mile, so it’s hard for people to actually get to the river,’’ Rothstein said. “We also want to build an accessible path for someone who’s blind or for someone else with disabilities to use.’’

Rothstein’s attention to the renovation efforts is rooted in his interests for Perkins School students, whose campus is located right off the Charles River.

“We want to use all the natural resources, but the river we don’t use as much as we like because of these issues,’’ Rothstein said.

“Sometimes we take the kids as far away as Duxbury. But if this were more accessible, they could use it more.

“It is critical for students to enjoy the outdoors, and it’s also a beautiful community resource,’’ Rothstein said. “Many staff, students, and alumni live in the area, since we’re one of Watertown’s largest employers, and it would allow people to get out and exercise and enjoy the beautiful riverfront.’’

The benefits of Charles River restoration can be seen in the success of riverfront businesses in nearby communities.

Bruce Smith, executive director of Community Rowing Inc. in Brighton, said after the DCR provided his company with a land lease and permission to build a public facility for river access, revenue shot through the roof.

“Now, there’s a three-acre public facility with park land and pathways, and it’s a destination for people,’’ Smith said. “Our business has more than quadrupled in the last three years, and that’s in a down economy. People love to be close to the water. It makes them feel better.’’

Kate Bowditch, director of projects for the Charles River Watershed Association, agreed.

“When you revitalize areas by rivers by providing obvious pathways and corridors to the river, and places for people to picnic and eat lunch and take a stroll, there’s a growing body of evidence that says this increases property values and business,’’ she said.

“It’s a good reason for a community to invest in riverfront restoration.’’

But Watertown officials make it clear that any major revitalization of the riverfront must be done with state funds.

Councilor at Large Susan Falkoff and community development and planning director Steven Magoon said while they think the riverfront revitalization would prove beneficial to the community, Watertown cannot afford to kick in any funds to help the cause.

“This is not an issue of spending town funds, because the town does not own the property – it’s an issue with the state government,’’ Falkoff said. “It’s a great project, and the community organizing people together has been really well-done and terrific, but the town government per say has not been involved because it’s not a town issue, really.’’

Magoon concurred.

“The entire construction cost is a big number and certainly something the town couldn’t afford to do, so it doesn’t make sense for anyone to contribute a small amount that’s not enough to get the project moving,’’ Magoon said.

“On the other hand, once we get project funding lined up, I’m sure the town would be participating in a meaningful way from then forward.’’

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