Metro

Community advocates work with state to clean polluted Charlesgate

Matthew Chapman used the water harvester to clean the Muddy River.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Matthew Chapman used the water harvester to clean the Muddy River.

Community activists this week partnered for the first time with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to clean up Charlesgate, the 12-acre park near Boston’s Kenmore Square that the Muddy River flows through on its way toward the Charles.

“The surface of the river is covered with so much trash, you can almost walk across it,” said Caroline Reeves, chairwoman of the Muddy Water Committee, which is part of the Charlesgate Alliance. “We are trying to clean it up not just for the human residents, but also for the wildlife that are so resilient they make the Muddy River their home.”

“We can’t just say it’s too dirty to clean. We need to work together to get that water clean so that our young people can get in there themselves and clean it up.”

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The cleanup began Monday and was to continue Tuesday, despite chilly, rainy weather. If more work needs to be done, the project will be extended, Reeves said.

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The Charlesgate was designed in the late 1800s. It was intended by Frederick Law Olmsted to connect the Charles River Esplanade, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and the Emerald Necklace at the Back Bay Fens, according to the Alliance.

A worker used a mechanical claw to transfer syringes found in the river from a bucket to a needle disposal container.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
A worker used a mechanical claw to transfer syringes found in the river from a bucket to a needle disposal container.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the construction in the area of Storrow Drive and the Bowker Overpass, which connects Boylston Street and Storrow Drive, disconnected the park from the Charles and dramatically decreased the size of the river. Over the years, it has become known for trash, duckweed blooms, and sewage waste, the activists said.

Reeves said Monday afternoon that she had spotted about four soccer balls and three shopping carts in the river before the cleanup began, as well as several Boston police barricades, pairs of shoes, and water bottles.

But Monday was “an amazing accomplishment,” Reeves said. More than 20 employees from the DCR and from subcontractors, including New England Disposal Technologies and SOLitude Lake Management, arrived at the Charlesgate at 7 a.m. to begin cleaning the river.

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A dozen volunteers from the community cheered them on — and picked up trash from the banks, Reeves said.

The $26,000 project was funded by the DCR, which owns the park. People in boats wearing hazmat suits collected trash the old-fashioned way with nets, while a trash harvester boat automatically scooped up debris.

Matt Chapman, the operator of the harvester, said he had scooped up 50 softballs, “and that number may be low!” alliance member George Lewis Jr. said Tuesday in an e-mail.

The Charlesgate “is the missing link, or the stepchild that’s been overlooked for a while,” Lewis said in a telephone interview Monday. “The city has no ownership, so it’s kind of a no man’s land.”

In addition to the harvester, workers cleaned by hand from a small boat.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
In addition to the harvester, workers cleaned by hand from a small boat.

The DCR cleans the Muddy River every year, Reeves said, but this was a first for a private-public partnership with the Alliance with a special focus on the Charlesgate area.

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It was also the first time the harvester had been used, she said. “This was the first time the Muddy had been graced with this modern invention of trash collection,” Reeves said. “These guys are heroes for working in the pouring rain.”

“We literally had a constellation from DCR; they were stars,” Reeves said.

After the cleanup is over, Reeves and Lewis said, they will focus on improving water quality in Charlesgate.

The activists have big plans for the area. They want dog parks, playgrounds, and bike paths to be added to the Charlesgate, so that more people see it as a place to play or stroll rather than one to avoid and be disgusted by, Reeves said.

The Alliance is already working with a design firm to develop a vision for the Charlesgate that improves water quality, reconnects Boston’s neighborhoods, and celebrates its history.

“For the first time our neighborhood groups of advocates have met with the DCR to say that this is the right thing to do, and we are going to do more of it and do it more often,” Reeves said.

The Muddy River needed plenty of attention.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
The Muddy River needed plenty of attention.

Katie Camero can be reached at katie.camero@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @camerokt_.