Dear Friend of the Charles River,

As summer heat sets in, the state's reopening process progresses, and protests for racial justice continue to sweep the country, our world is looking and feeling very different than when we launched this newsletter series in March.

Two weeks ago, we shared a message of solidarity with Black Lives Matter protestors and committed to better prioritizing anti-racism in our work. We are continuing to explore what this means for our organization and for the parks we steward.

With more park facilities accessible under phase two of Massachusetts' reopening, we hope you find time to visit the river. The parks can be a powerful place to both recharge and reflect. Please continue to adhere to MassDCR guidelines for safe park use.

This is our fifth Bringing the Parks to You newsletter. We hope you enjoy it!
Bringing the parks to you...
On Sundays from April to November, Memorial Drive between the Eliot Bridge and Western Avenue transforms into Riverbend Park. From 11am to 7pm, the parkway is closed to vehicular traffic, producing a large swatch of open space for cycling, skating, running, and a range of other leisure activities.

While Memorial Drive is only traffic-free one day a week, the adjacent riverfront parkland invites visitors all week long. Though quite narrow in some areas, the park widens between the Anderson Memorial Bridge and Western Avenue, creating a popular destination for picnicking, playing sports, and hanging out by the river. The Paul Dudley White multi-use path gives bikers, walkers, and runners a scenic view of the winding section of river and links to the Weeks Footbridge, the only pedestrian-only bridge within the Charles River Reservation.
The City of Cambridge took the Charles River riverfront, including where Riverbend Park lies today, by eminent domain in 1894. With plans to develop parkland, the Cambridge Park Commission hired landscape architect Charles Eliot as their consultant. With the guidance of Eliot's vision, the city constructed the Memorial Drive parkway and planted sycamore trees along the river.

By the 1970's, the parkway, originally designed for slow scenic drives, had become a heavily-trafficked transportation corridor. Dissatisfied with the constant traffic on Memorial Drive which separated her neighborhood from the river, Isabella Halsted had an idea. In 1974, she sent a letter to 400 Cambridge residents proposing closing a 1.7-mile stretch of the roadway on Sundays. She received enormous neighborhood support. Granted a single traffic-free Sunday from city and state authorities, she organized a giant picnic where people signed petitions in support of her proposal. Two days later, she officially founded the People for Riverbend Park Trust.

Around that same time, Halsted attended a charity auction and won a lunch with then Senator Edward Kennedy. She successfully lobbied the senator, and with his support, Memorial Drive began closing on summer Sundays in 1976. The Trust fundraised to cover the program's costs for nine years, until the state legislature finally approved funding and established permanent Sunday closures of the parkway from April to November.

During all times of the year, the sycamore trees that line Memorial Drive are prominent elements of the park's natural landscape. They were originally planted in the 19th century as part of Charles Eliot’s plan for the parks, and the oldest is over 120 years old. This time of year, they are green with leaves!

The sycamores along Memorial Drive are London planetrees, a hybrid of American and Eastern sycamores . With a high tolerance for pollution and compact soil, the large trees are popular in urban areas. Like all sycamores, London planetrees' bark peels in irregular patches to uncover a lighter-colored inner bark. The surviving trees of Riverbend Park are carefully monitored for root and branch health and hold a special place in many people’s hearts.
"Over the years, I have spoken with many park users. No finer testimony to how much the park is loved could be offered than that given recently by a man loading the family bicycles onto their car. When I asked how far they had come to use the park, his answer astounded me. "From New Hampshire," he said. But then he explained. He had grown up in Cambridge and so sorely missed this beautiful, peaceful Sunday park along the river that they come back almost every week. I was deeply touched."

Pat Sekler,
Coordinator, Adopt-a-lot Program

  • Last year, MassDCR began Phase III of Memorial Drive Greenway Improvements. In response, the CRC and other advocates and stakeholders have joined forces with a vision for a beautiful, safe, resilient, and vibrant green corridor. Check out what we're advocating for: Memorial Drive Alliance.

  • Though public parks should welcome people of all backgrounds, they can default to becoming exclusionary spaces. KangJae "Jerry" Lee's research on race and parks give important historical and current contexts for racial disparities in park use: "Public Space, Park Space, Racialized Space."

  • Biologists, birder, and activist Corina Newsome has helped initiate an important conversation around what it means for natural places to actually feel safe and welcoming for people of color. Read her powerful words: "It's time to build a truly inclusive outdoors."

Though Boston's annual pride parade was cancelled this year, the Charles River's Longfellow Bridge took to celebrating with a rainbow light show!

At a critical moment for both LGBTQ+ rights as well as racial justice, the rainbow lights of the Longfellow, and their reflections over the Charles, remind us of our values: diversity and inclusion for all.

We hope you will join us on Instagram , Twitter , and Facebook as a way to stay connected.
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.