Dear Friend of the Charles River,

Welcome to May! The first of May is traditionally reserved to celebrate spring, and we hope your May Day is no different this year.

Flowers are blooming on almost every street corner, and despite these challenging times, there is a lot to celebrate. If you are still able to safely and responsibly visit the river, we hope the parks are bringing you peace and vitality. We also ask that you continue to monitor and adhere to MassDCR guidelines for park use during the pandemic.

For those of you who are home-bound, or safely opting for less-travelled greenspaces, we are thrilled to bring the Charles River parks to you with our Bringing the Parks to You newsletter! This is our third issue, and we hope it makes you smile.
Bringing the parks to you...
The Watertown Riverfront Park and Braille Trail are located on a mile-long stretch of parkland along the Charles River in Watertown, just steps away from the Perkins School for the Blind. In addition to walking and biking paths, river outlooks, open space, and athletic courts, the park features a unique accessible trail.

The quarter-mile loop, coined the "Braille Trail," makes it easier for low-sighted and blind individuals to experience nature and navigate independently. Guiding wires, with different shaped beads to indicate park features, direct visitors along the path. At the center of the trail is a "sensory garden," which includes fragrant native plants and trees with interesting bark texture. The "garden" also features other tactile and sonic elements, such as boat-shaped benches, a musical marimba bench, and an engraving of poetry in braille. View Watertown Riverfront Park and Braille Trail on a map.
Opened in 2016, the Watertown Riverfront Park and Braille Trail is the culmination of over a decade of advocacy and effective public-private partnerships. Prior to construction, the section along the Charles River had long been neglected. The narrow paths were hidden by overgrown shrubbery, interrupted by tree roots, and in some places destroyed by shoreline erosion. Neighboring residents frequently complained about the conditions, and in 2002, MassDCR's Charles River Master Plan identified the area as a priority.

After the Solomon Foundation brought MassDCR officials to the site during a 2006 bike ride, a critical private-public partnership formed: the Solomon Foundation would manage the park's design process, and DCR would take over construction once funding was available. The Solomon Foundation began by convening community stakeholders, including representatives from the neighboring Perkins School for the Blind. In 2007, the foundation hired Watertown-based global design firm, Sasaki, to incorporate community input into a design for the park. Since the park's opening, the Charles River Conservancy has joined the partnership, and we continue to care for the park through our Conservancy Volunteers program.

In addition to stabilizing the eroded river's edge and restoring a healthy ecosystem, the Sasaki design team, who were sighted, worked closely with blind and low-sighted individuals to ensure the paths would be safe and accessible to the visually impaired. Perkins proofread all braille used for signage, helped determine appropriate heights for signs and trail features, and weighted in on messaging strategies. Additionally, Sasaki designers kept the physically handicapped and elderly in mind, and included frequent seating options as well as wheelchair accessible picnic tables.

(Sources: The Solomon Foundation and Sasaki. Photos courtesy of Sasaki.)
When you enter the Braille trail from the west, three gorgeous blooming Amelanchier, or shadbush, trees welcome you. Amelanchier trees are native to New England and produce white flowers in spring and sweet, edible berries in June (around the same time as the annual shad run in New England).

You will also notice the unique leaf of the Sundial lupine, or Lupinus perennis, starting to grow all along the Braille trail. Sundial Lupine is also native to eastern North America, and has easy to identify compound leaves. These lupines will produce a showy blue flower in late spring and early summer, before developing a bean-like pod similar to peas (they are in the same family).
“The opening of this park is significant because it connects adjacent communities to one another and the Charles River, improves the park, and strengthens users’ connection to nature in an accessible way for all to enjoy.”

Senior Associate Landscape Architect at Sasaki & lead on the park's design

  • Sasaki is committed to inclusive design as part of their practice. Read more about Sasaki and the Sasaki Foundation's innovative approaches to accessibility in design: "Inclusive Design is Human Design."

  • At the intersection of research, practice, and community, the Sasaki Foundation is dedicated to advancing the value of design and inviting diverse partners to co-create change. In 2018, the CRC received the foundation's design grant to develop our Floating Wetland Project. Check out their current call for proposals and read the floating wetland section of the design grant report: "Sasaki Foundation 2018-2019 Design Grant Research."

  • We're all looking for ways to safely and responsibly get fresh air while following social distancing guidelines. Deborah Brown chronicles her adventure kayaking on the Charles River with spirit and humor in The Swellesley Report: "Springtime kayaking on the Charles River in Wellesley."

We all notice it, in small ways or large. The florescent green buds of the street trees. The blooming flowers in your neighborhood park. The return of songbirds to your window sill. Spring is fully upon us!

In these physically distant times, we are connected by the nature around us. We hope you will celebrate spring with us by sharing your pictures and stories on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook 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.