Urban Rivers: Northeast

Boston, Massachusetts: Charles River
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Reclaiming a river

During the Industrial Revolution, Boston''s Charles River was dammed for mills and filled for commercial and residential use. At low tide, the bays of the lower Charles became vast expanses of stinking, sewage-laden mudflats. Not until the end of the century did Boston citizens take the first steps to clean up the river and transform its shores. Regardless of the long road still ahead, area residents congregate on and along the Charles for all sorts of recreation. Walkers and joggers get exercise and a great view on the trails alongside the Charles. During warmer months on Sunday afternoons, a one-and-a-half-mile section of Memorial Drive (north of the Charles near Harvard University) is closed to car traffic; take a stroll, ride a bike, or strut your stuff on in-line skates.

For on-river activities, rent a canoe or kayak; experience a classic Charles pastime with a class on sculling or rowing. Each October, over 5,400 athletes come to compete in the Head of the Charles Regatta—the world''s largest two-day rowing event. About 300,000 spectators watch the races, so arrive early to claim a good spot. If you really want to get your feet wet, people can and do swim in the Charles; however, the New England Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the river''s health a failing grade as recently as 1995. The EPA set a goal to make the Charles both swimmable and fishable by 2005.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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