HISTORIC DAY FOR THE CHARLES
On Saturday July 13, 2013, the Conservancy in collaboration with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Charles River Swimming Club, organized the first public community swim in the Charles in more than fifty years. It was a momentous day in the river’s history—and for so many people who have worked for decades to improve the water quality of the river, a celebration.
With 144 people registered for the swim—and more than 80 others on the waiting list—the event demonstrated the great enthusiasm among the public to reclaim the Charles for recreational swimming.
With cheers of celebration, swimmers jumped off the dock at the Esplanade to enjoy a cool, deep-water swim in the Charles. During the four 30-minute swim segments, swimmers splashed, laughed, and treaded water in awe of the moment, as lifeguards watched from the dock and from kayaks on the water.
The Conservancy is dedicated to creating more opportunities for community swims in the Charles. CRC will be working with DCR to identify other deep-water dock locations where public swimming may be feasible and safely permitted for future events.
Boston Globe article: Charles River opens for first public swim since the 1950′s
Boston Globe article: What we learned in 2013: Dirty Water is not Forever
Working with a coalition of public and private partners, the Charles River Conservancy launched the Swimmable Charles Initiative in 2004 to return public swimming to the lower Charles River. The potential for public swimming in the Charles River exists today as a result of the Clean Charles River Initiative begun by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1995.
If you mention the idea of taking a swim in the Charles River, at least one person is likely to comment about the “dirty water,” highlighted in The Standells’ 1966 hit song of the same name, and today, sung by fans at the end of every Red Sox win at Fenway Park. The popular song, along with memories of a once polluted Boston Harbor and Charles River, has ingrained “dirty water” in the public’s consciousness. As a result, few people know that up until the mid-1950s, swimming in the river was a popular activity.
EPA’s Clean Charles River Initiative established the goal of making the lower Charles River, from Watertown to Boston Harbor, fishable and swimmable by 2005. Through the efforts of federal, state and local agencies, nonprofit organizations, private institutions and local residents, tremendous progress has been made toward this goal; the water quality of the Charles has improved from a grade of “D” in 1995 to a “B+” in 2012. As water quality continues to improve, the lower Charles River is now considered swimmable many days of the year. Because of these significant water quality improvements, the Charles River Swimming Club, with the support of the Charles River Conservancy, began holding an annual one-mile swim race in the Charles in 2007. In 2011, the Charles River won the Thiess International Riverprize, naming it the cleanest urban river in the United States.
Thank you to CCTV for creating and sharing this video of the first community swim in over 50 years!
Despite the dramatic improvements to the water quality of the Charles, there are still significant challenges to meet, including access constraints and sediment contamination, before the public can have a safe place to swim in the lower Charles River. The goal of the Swimmable Charles Initiative is to address these challenges so that the lower Charles might once again support recreational swimming for a community that already sails, rows, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and wind surfs on the river on a regular basis.
To learn more about the history of public swimming in the Charles River, read A Swimmable Charles? Water Quality and Public Access, published by the Conservancy in 2011. For more information about the Swimmable Charles Initiative contact CRC’s Director of Projects, Jessica Parsons at 617-300-8164 or firstname.lastname@example.org.