Swimmable Charles

CitySplash_Logo_June 17


DCIM100GOPROG0020266.CitySplash is back for its fourth consecutive year – join us on the Boston Esplanade from 2-6pm on Tuesday, July 12!

See additional information, a map of the location, and register for your half-hour swim spot today at swimthecharles.eventbrite.com.

See press coverage about past swims and consider supporting swimming in the Charles today!


Swimmable Charles Merchandise
We’re excited to announce the launch of the Charles River Conservancy’s online store. Through our online store, you can donate directly to the Swimmable Charles Initiative with the purchase of an “I Swam the Charles!” towel.


What people have to say about swimming in the Charles:
Jumpers2“Saturday afternoon was so much fun at CitySplash. It seemed like the most normal thing in the world for people to be diving, swimming, and enjoying a beautiful day in the Charles River.”
  – Bill Nigreen, Facilitation for Social Change

“I’ve lived in both Boston and Cambridge for many years but seeing these world-class cities from the vantage point of swimming in the Charles was a unique thrill that everyone should be able to experience. I went in to the water a skeptic and came out an advocate for increasing public access to this one-of-a-kind resource: a swimmable urban river.
  – David Hacin, founding Principal and President of Hacin + Associates

“For years, I’ve always wanted to swim in the Charles River. Now I finally got my chance, and I was pleasantly surprised at how warm and clean the water was. The federal, state, and local partners working to clean up the river have done an incredible job. It would be a thrill someday to produce triathlon events in the river, taking advantage of the clean water and the connectivity of urban pathways around the Charles. Imagine that!”
  – Dave McGillivray, President of DMSE and B.A.A. Boston Marathon Race Director



For years, natural bodies of water in Europe have drawn swimmers year-round; from the Copenhagen Harbor Baths to swimming holes in the Rhine and Limmat rivers in Switzerland. More recently, river swimming has caught the attention of city-dwellers around the world. From the +Pool in New York’s East River to the Swimming Hole in Houston; from Museum Island in Berlin to the Thames Baths in London; an #InternationalSwimClub is developing.

What makes swimming in the Charles River stand out among these proposals? Unlike most urban rivers, the Charles meets swimmable water quality standards more than 85% of the summer in dry weather. The success of cleaning up the Charles River has inspired a number of fanciful proposals – check them out here!



This historic photo shows swimmers lounging at Magazine Beach in Cambridge in the river swimming heyday near the turn of the century.

Swimming in the Charles was once a favorite summer pastime for all ages. In the mid-1950’s, a growing awareness of the river’s pollution and the possible health risks it posed forced the closure of riverfront beaches along the Charles.

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 a number of federal and state initiatives, including 1972 amendments to the Clean Water Act, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority’s Boston Harbor Project launched in 1986, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 1995  Charles River Initiative.

Through these efforts and partnerships with local agencies, nonprofit organizations, private institutions and local residents, tremendous progress has been made toward making the Charles swimmable and fishable; the water quality of the Charles has improved from a grade of “D” in 1995 to an “A-” in 2013, and 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.

Despite the dramatic improvements to the water quality of the Charles, there are still significant challenges to meet before the public can have a safe, permanent location to swim in the lower Charles River, including access constraints, sediment contamination, and increasing levels of phosphorous affecting the river’s health. To increase awareness of the remaining challenges and the accomplishment of the river’s improved health, the Conservancy started hosting public community swim events in the Charles River in 2013, now know as CitySplash. 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.

20140726_103105 copyFor more information about the Swimmable Charles Initiative contact Kelsey Pramik at 617.300.8164 or kpramik@thecharles.org.  For press inquiries, please contact Director of Development and Communications, SJ Port at 617.300.8172 or sjport@thecharles.org.

To support a swimmable Charles, please make a gift to the Conservancy today!