Cruising and Cleaning the Malden River

By Karen Buck
Friends of the Malden River (FoMR) 
An MIT COE2C Community Partner in Malden, Massachusetts
Reprinted by author’s permission from
Edits by Kathleen M. Vandiver, MIT COE2C Director
Photos by Anne D’Urso Rose and Kelsey Menon


On the eve of the 2018 Autumnal Equinox during the mystical moment of twilight, two launch boats from the Gentle Giants Rowing Club (GGRC), towed 10 canoes from the Blessing of the Bay up the Malden River. Aboard were Pastor Edwin Menon of  the Highrock Malden Church and his wife, Kelsey Menon.  They were preparing for what would be one of the largest community cleanups in Malden River’s recent history on the next day.

The mostly obedient canoes snaked behind the motor boats as Rich Whelan of  the GGRC told stories of his youth teams traversing the Mystic River and the Malden River. The return trip to the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse was under a waxing gibbous moon and guided by city lights. At the end of the ride Menon said, “Now, I really know why you love this river.”

By 8:15 AM on Sept. 22, 2018 more than 71 people mingled in the parking lot of 188 Commercial St. in Malden. The group was organized by Pastor Menon and his wife. First, the Friends of the Malden River (FoMR), Mayor Gary Christenson and Councilor Ryan O’Malley welcomed the participants, who included Malden High School and Malden Catholic students.

The Cleanup Kickoff Crew comprised of Highrock Malden Church, Friends of the Malden River, Malden High School and Malden Catholic students, Mayor Christenson and Councilor Ryan O’Malley

“I appreciate the incredible opportunity we have to beautify the Malden River and make it more accessible to the public as a green space,” said Jennelle Devits of Ward 2.  “I think the Malden River provides avenues for recreational activity that benefits all populations, whether biking, walking, rowing or otherwise and if we can commit to making it publicly accessible, it can be a wonderful common area.  The history of the Malden River runs deep in our City with respect to industry and transportation and I would love to see Malden and the abutting property owners take the lead on re-mediating the banks and sites and following through on its promise.”

Then the group was unleashed to begin the cleanup.  During the event, about 100 people contributed their time, their laughter, and their huge efforts to restore our Malden River back to its natural state.

The Malden River bobbed the 10 canoes loaned out by PaddleBoston Somerville.  Eighteen youths hopped into the boats during that morning; all of them were in boats for the first time on the Malden River and some were in a canoe for the first time ever.  

“No, I have never actually been to the river before so it was really fun going out, and I’ve never been in a canoe. So having the chance to help out Malden while checking something off my bucket list was great.” said Malden High School sophomore, Yasmin Alayan. 

Dr. Vandiver and Jodie, a Malden High School student

Alayan came to the river cleanup with other members of the Key Club in respect of the Malden community she loves. Alayan noted “There was a lot of trash in [the river] and the fact that it was mostly bottles.  So I think something the city can invest in is more public recycling bins because all of the bottles people are throwing in the streets are ending up in the river.”

Renee Hoekstra, an avid paddle boarder, proved that there is a multitude of ways to tackle trash.  She talked about the amount of trash that is windblown or is rushed through the storm water drainage system that lands in the Malden River, travels to the Mystic River, then to the Boston Harbor into the ocean.  There are gargantuan trash vortexes populated by pieces of plastic smaller than paper clips as the trash breaks down in its path toward the ocean.  Unfortunately, we discovered that some residents also illegally dump their trash the banks of our rivers.

The Malden River was once highly polluted and used as a disposal site for riverside industries.  This began to change when the industries dwindled in the 1920’s. But there are still oil and chemical spills in our local rivers.  The 1972 Clean Water Act has been instrumental in protecting the country’s water bodies.  There have been massive remediation efforts such as the Telecom City site (River’s Edge) and the Monsanto site (Encore Casino).  But some of the public still perceive the Malden River as dirty.  Another large percentage is unfamiliar with the river due to lack of public access.  The Malden River is walled off from the community by industrial buildings, chain link fences, and lack of public awareness of its potential as a destination.

Describing a river way as “dirty” has three aspects: the sediment on the bottom of the river; the water column; and the trash littered on its banks.  The sediment on the bottom of the Malden River is contaminated by heavy metals from industrial waste. The Malden River is no longer tidal due to the Amelia Earhart Dam. This settles the contaminants, which pose risk only when disturbed.

The water column is mostly affected by the storm water drainage system.  The water quality is compromised within 24 hours of a rainfall of more than 0.5 inch.  The Mystic River Watershed has formulated a recreational flagging system based on a year of water sampling and a resulting algorithm that can predict the water quality.

The litter found on the banks is something that can be remedied by prevention, education and action.  That is why community clean-ups can have a positive result in keeping litter out of our water systems.

A lot of trash was picked up.  We counted 76 bags of trash in addition to miscellaneous items, obviously illegally dumped.  Another major achievement was bringing 100 people to the Malden River and nurturing river and land stewards.

If you would like to get involved, please write to the and join their Facebook page for legislative and event updates.

Left to right against the tailgate:  Neal Anderson (Ward 7 City Councilor), Ryan O’Malley (Ward 4 Councilor), and Karen Buck (FoMR leader)