Muddy River Restoration
The Muddy River is the central waterway of the Emerald Necklace, meandering from its source at Jamaica Pond to its mouth at Charlesgate Park. Ensuring its health and flood control capabilities is no small task, but has been a worthwhile one going on three centuries.
Today’s Muddy River Restoration Project is a years-long effort led by the US Army Corps of Engineers to improve the flow of the river, stabilize its banks, control invasive species, restore habitats for native wildlife and more!
The Muddy River was central to Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of the Emerald Necklace. Back in the 1880s, he designed what he called the Muddy River Improvement to “to abate existing nuisances, avoid threatened dangers, and provide for the permanent, wholesome and seemly disposition of the drainage of Muddy River Valley… chiefly by embanking, contracting and deepening the existing creek and ponds and excluding sewage and tides.” Within decades his designs sculpted a sinuous flow through Leverett Pond, the Riverway, and the Fens into the Charles River that allowed for un-flooded urban development along the edges of the newly designed boundaries of the Riverway and Fenway.
Boston’s 20th-century development severely compromised Olmsted’s vision, and the effects are still felt today. Over time, invasive plants chocked the un-maintained river in several key points, slowing its flow and allowing it to fester. Worse, by the 1950s, cars and industry led to widened hardscaped roads, overpasses and parking lots. This quickly outdated infrastructure could not absorb or naturally treat stormwater as Olmsted’s “green infrastructure” could, so street water flowed directly into the river, carrying with it harmful bacteria and pollutants. Decades of urban development led to large swaths of the Muddy being culverted and driven underground. By 1959, a parking lot for Sears Roebuck & Co. (now the Landmark Center) buried one section of the river, leading to flooding as early as 1962.
In fact, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy was founded in 1998 after a severe flooding event in 1996 led to $70 Million in damages throughout the neighborhoods and public transit along the river. Since then, community members have come together to advocate for this crucial public space, and to work toward keeping it clean and healthy for the benefit of all.