Dear Friend of the Charles River,

Each day of spring brings a bit more promise. As temperatures rise and public health restrictions shift, we hope you get the chance to spend time in nature as a way to support your physical and mental well-being.

Massachusetts' parks, including those along the Charles River, are lovely this time of year, bustling with bright colors and new life. If you are able to safely and responsibly visit the river, we hope you take comfort in nature's enduring beauty. We also ask that you continue to monitor and adhere to MassDCR guidelines for park use.

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 fourth issue, and we hope it makes you smile.
Bringing the parks to you...
Centrally located between the Boston University Bridge and Pleasant Street, Magazine Beach is the second largest park in Cambridge, with 15 acres of riverfront open space. In addition to natural areas, the large park features sports fields, exercise equipment, picnic areas, a historic Powder Magazine building, and a free public pool that is a popular destination throughout the summer months!

The park is also in the midst of a series of improvements, thanks to the efforts of Magazine Beach Partners and funding from MassDCR, the City of Cambridge, and individual donors. The first major phase of work has already resulted in shoreline and path improvements, a canoe/kayak launch, a river outlook, and an expanded patio and terrace for the Powder Magazine. Phase two of the improvements will replace the sunken parking lot with a grassy beach and add a dock and additional outlook along the river's edge. View Magazine Beach on a map.
Hundreds of years ago, Magazine Beach would have been completely underwater during high tide, except for the small area of Captain Patricks Island, named after the soldier who once owned it. At the junction between the Charles River to the west and a marshy bay to the east, and with far-reaching sight-lines, the island was militarily useful during the colonial era.

In 1818, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased the island and constructed a gunpowder storage facility, or "powder magazine," for use by the state militia as well as private merchants and individuals. The site was an ideal location: far from settlements in case of explosion and with access to the Charles River, a major transportation corridor.

Over the next several decades, the demand for gunpowder decreased while the neighborhood of Cambridgeport inched closer to Captains Island, filling in the river's marshes as it developed. In 1863, residents with safety concerns successfully petitioned the Commonwealth to close the magazine. The building was left abandoned, and in the 1880s, a group of young boys broke in and removed the roof's copper screws, causing it to collapse. The building continued to decay as the land shifted owners.

Spurred by the post Civil War urban parks movement, the City of Cambridge took Captains Island by eminent domain in 1894 with plans to build a riverfront park. The island was already a swimming destination, but the new park, designed by the Olmsted Brothers' firm, filled in the surrounding marshes, created a municipal beach for swimming, and converted the decapitated magazine building into a bathhouse. Magazine Beach, as it was named, remained popular for swimming until 1949 when the Metropolitan District Commission (today's MassDCR) banned swimming in the Charles River due to pollution. The Powder Magazine building still stands today and is by far the oldest building in the Charles River Reservation.


This time of year, a lot is happening outside! Trees are leafing, bees bumble from flower to flower, and blooms provide a feast for the eyes. At Magazine Beach, signs of spring are emerging in the park's two bioswales: depressed vegetation designed to slow storm water run-off.

In the western swale, you can spot the Red-Twig Dogwood flowering. Though most popular for its striking red branches, in spring the plant also produces beautiful white blossoms which stand out against oppositely-arranged, oval-shaped leaves. With a preference for moist soil, especially along streams and lakesides, in wet meadows, and along forest edges, Red-Twig Dogwood finds a happy home in the Magazine Beach swales.
“Magazine Beach Partners is grateful to DCR, the City of Cambridge, and the community for investing in recent improvements to Magazine Beach. This work demonstrates what we can accomplish working together with a clear purpose and will make the park an even more inviting place to relax, recreate and, eventually, to gather, over the coming decades.”

Cathie Zusy

  • As appreciation for urban parks becomes more widespread, Kathy Abbott, CEO of Boston Harbor Now, urges leaders to reimagine the future of parks, paths, and open space in Boston. Read her opinion piece in The Boston Globe: "An opportunity to reimagine Boston's open spaces."

  • With higher-than-average usage and crowding in certain parks, cities are searching for creative solutions. In her Boston Globe opinion piece, Renée Loth surveys some of the cities that have opened their streets to enable safe physical distancing: "Taking it to the streets."
Spring has sprung, and we are thrilled to witness it! Flowers are blooming, trees are donning florescent green leaves, and the birds are lively with song. These tell-tale signs of spring keep us optimistic.

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.