Celebrating Boston at the Charles River Cleanup

By Ranelle Porter,

By Lorelei Erisis | April 26, 2019 | 3 Minute Read

Few things are more quintessentially Boston than hearing “Dirty Water” played when the Red Sox or Bruins win a home game. But visitors to the Boston area today, or even some younger residents, could be forgiven for not understanding that the song references our own Charles River. Thanks to community efforts like the Charles River Cleanup, today’s Charles River is consistently swimmable and it serves as a scenic centerpiece of the cities and communities that it flows through.

However, it wasn’t always that way. Over 50 years ago, when the song was written, Bostonians easily recognized that “Dirty Water” referred to the murky Charles River. After being damaged by more than a century of sewage, industrial wastewater, and urban runoff, the river was so heavily polluted that it sometimes appeared pink or orange.

The Annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup has played a key role in reversing the years of abuse and neglect and helps to distance the river from its previous reputation. Building on a national effort as part of the American Rivers’ National River Cleanup, this community action brings together more than 3,000 local volunteers to pick up litter, remove invasive species, and help to maintain the parks that line the length of the river.

At 80 miles long—and flowing through 23 towns and cities in eastern Massachusetts—the Charles River has the most densely populated watershed in New England. Well known for its boating, as well as parks like Boston’s Esplanade, the Charles River also has a rich ecosystem. The river is home to 20 species of fish and its watershed includes more than 8,000 acres of protected wetlands—which is important in preventing downstream flooding and providing natural habitats to native species.

An important piece of this astonishing transformation has been the community-driven efforts of volunteers each year during the cleanup. You, too, can celebrate Earth Day and play an active role in the care and upkeep of your own communities, while also enjoying the beauty and the wildlife of the Charles River. This year, the 20th Annual Charles River Cleanup will take place on Saturday, April 27, 2019.

Since its inception in 1991, the American Rivers’ National River Cleanup has brought together more than 1.3 million volunteers in thousands of cleanups across the country, helping to remove more than 25 million pounds of litter and debris from America’s rivers. The cleanup’s ongoing success is a testament to the incredible difference that everyday people can make in our own communities if we organize and come together for good.

By engaging with each other, our environments, and our communities, we make vital connections with wide-ranging significance. These efforts are what weave communities together and forge bonds among us that help to bridge common differences and establish real relationships.

Volunteering to help clean areas in our own communities is a great way to get actively involved. It lets neighbors meet each other and work toward a common goal, encourages stewardship of the land we live on, and creates a connection among the politically and socially disparate elements of our local communities.

This connection, stewardship, and neighborly care all contribute to creating and sustaining thriving communities. Community engagement is vital in dissolving boundaries and tearing down walls so we can all work together toward a brighter, happier, and cleaner future.

Whether you’re looking to be more active in your community—or just helping to improve the environment and work towards a cleaner, healthier river—visit the Charles River Cleanup for more information or sign up as a volunteer to start making a difference today.

Volunteer with the Charles River Cleanup team to help keep our river clean.