Dear Friend of the Charles River,

With flowers blooming, and temperatures breaking 50 degrees, there is no question that spring is here in Boston!

Spring is a cherished time in the Charles River parks, and if you are able to safely and responsibly visit the river, we hope you are enjoying the parks during this time of seasonal transformation. We also ask that you continue to monitor and adhere to MassDCR guidelines for park use during the pandemic.

If you are home-bound these days, or safely opting for less-travelled greenspaces, we are thrilled to bring the Charles River parks to you with our all-new Bringing the Parks to You newsletter! This is our second issue, and we hope it makes you smile.
Bringing the parks to you...
A "hidden gem" in East Cambridge, North Point Park is an 8.5 acre greenspace overlooking the Charles River near the Museum of Science and Lechmere Canal. The unique riverfront park includes fields, trees, multi-use paths, and a couple of land islands connected by pedestrian bridges. The shallow waterways separating the islands are perfect for exploring via kayak. The park is also home to a playground and water feature, as well as the Lynch Family Skatepark. View North Point Park on a map.
Opened in 2007, North Point Park is one of the newest parks within the Charles River Basin. Prior to its construction, the area was considered part of "the lost half mile," a term coined by writer and editor Max Hall in 1986 to describe the section of river between the 1910 Charles River Dam (where the Museum of Science lives today) and the Boston Harbor. This region was historically utilized for heavy industry, railroads, and highways and cut off from the rest of the Charles River park system.

North Point Park was developed as mitigation for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's "Big Dig" project, which depressed the elevated Interstate-93 highway in downtown Boston into a tunnel in order to create the Rose Kennedy Greenway. While the Greenway promised to become a landmark greenspace in Boston, the Big Dig faced a complicated and controversial design challenge: how would the highway cross the Charles River? After studying many options, MassDOT selected "Scheme Z,” which relied exclusively on bridges rather than underground tunnels. The design faced significant opposition from park advocates, including the Metropolitan District Commission (today's MassDCR). A solution was finally reached when Secretary of Environmental Affairs DeVillares agreed to approve the project's environmental impact report under the condition that it fund the design and construction of new public parkland in the area.

North Point Park was built with the resulting mitigation funds, along with neighboring Paul Revere Park and Nashua Street Park. Contrary to their history as "the lost half mile," today this section of the Charles River is known as the "New Basin. " Designed by Cambridge-based landscape architecture firm Carr Lynch & Sandell, North Point Park references Olmsted's characteristic naturalistic style. The iconic Zakim Bridge, also the result of "Scheme Z" negotiations, can be viewed from the park.

(Source:  Inventing the Charles River , by Karl Haglund, MIT Press, 2003)
This time of year, many of North Point Park's diverse plants are beginning to awaken from winter. The yellow daffodils and forsythia are some of the first to bloom, followed by stunning pink magnolia trees and purple muscari. The park's majestic weeping willows are also already showing green. There are several to be found throughout the park.

The willows in North Point Park can be recognized by their curved form and drooping elongated leaves. More than 400 varieties of the weeping willow exist with more than 80 of them growing in the U.S. Willows tolerate almost any soil and prefer a moist location, liking to “keep their feet wet.” They find happy homes along the river and the North Point Park canals.

In April and May, weeping willows usually produce catkins, a long slim flower which often has no petals. These flowers, which are male or female depending on the tree's gender, are the key to the plant's reproduction. The male and female flowers are cross pollinated by insects or wind that disperses the male seed.
Since its founding, the Charles River Conservancy has worked towards returning swimming to the urban Charles River. In 2016, we teamed up with Stantec to publish a swim park feasibility study. The study identified North Point Park as a potential location for a future swim facility . The site offers numerous benefits, including flexible lawn spaces, nearby connections to the MBTA and BlueBike bike rental stations, as well as other amenities.

Since then, we have partnered with Northeastern Ph.D. student Max Rome to study water quality at North Point Park for the summers of 2017 and 2018. The results have informed our approach and led to the launch of our current Floating Wetland Project. Learn more about our Charles River Swimming Initiative .
" The dock at North Point Park is a wonderful place to get close to the river. On the right day you can watch a children's soccer game and see migratory shad foraging along the seawall. "

Max Rome
Northeastern Ph.D. Candidate

  • Kevin Lynch, of Carr Lynch & Sandell (the firm that designed North Point Park), was an important landscape architect and MIT professor. Though he had passed long before the park was build, the design committee used his foundational methods of mental mapping in their process. Read more about his influential life and work from Bostonography: "Kevin Lynch & The Imageable Boston."

  • To prevent crowding in state parks, MassDCR has opened some parks early and increased access to others. Learn more about MassDCR's expanded park access and consider visiting one of the state's less-traveled natural places: "Access expanded for local state parks."

  • As more people turn to parks for respite during these stressful and quarantine-ridden times, the safety and importance of public greenspaces have become the subject of debate. Zeynep Tufekci makes a convincing case for keeping parks open in The Atlantic: "Keep the Parks Open."
What is more inspiring than the first daffodil bulbs breaking through cold soil and blooming in the sun? Spring is here and we are thrilled to witness it!

Though the current pandemic is keeping us physically distant, we are connected by the nature around us.

We hope you will join us in celebrating spring by sharing your pictures and stories on social media with the hashtag #SpringSighting .
We appreciate your ongoing support during this crisis so that we can continue to steward the Charles River and its parks, a resource that is more important than ever.