Talk about a Watershed Year? The Malden River Greenway takes Shape in 2017

Attention and excitement has been growing in 2017 for an ambitious plan to construct a greenway along the Malden River. This important natural resource, a tributary of the Mystic River just north of Boston is bordered by three cities: Malden, Medford, and Everett.  Townspeople have been known to say “What? A river runs through it?” whenever someone refers to the river.  This is understandable. Currently, of the 3.5 miles of shoreline, only about one mile is publically accessible and even these spots remain quite hidden. Generations of heavy industrial use of the river have led to contaminated soils.  Later these lands were sealed by hot-top paving or brownfields that were fenced, further keeping the river out of sight and out of mind (see Figure 1 for an example).  However, this past year with local leadership and several brownfield redevelopments, the Malden River is well on its way to becoming a central open space amenity for all three cities.

Fig. 1.  Here is an area along the Malden River showing the degraded shoreline. It includes a paved parking lot and a fence that restricts access to the river. Storm water runoff from the parking lot is an issue as well. 
 

The proposed parkland will offer a healthy recreational space for all, including environmental justice (EJ) communities, as the project connects previously isolated, paved neighborhoods with walking paths and biking routes through natural surroundings.  The planning has been spearheaded by Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) in partnership with the Solomon Foundation, a funding organization that helped to restore the Charles River in Boston.  MyRWA has brought together cities, developers, businesses, citizens, and community groups including the Friends of the Malden River (FoMR) to create a coalition that will support the implementation connected parklands along the river.  Utile is the design consultant company tasked with creating a master plan and recommendations for new parks, paths, and boating amenities along the Malden River.  

Whether boating activities and public boat launches on the Malden River would pose a human health risk and a liability has been a concerning question for the community for a long time (see CEHS website https://cehs.mit.edu/outreach/statewide). Dr. Vandiver, the Community Outreach Education and Engagement Core (COE2C) Director, helped to bring together several organizations and as a result, a human health risk study report will be available in Jan 2018.  The collaboration included MyRWA staff for the sample collection; MIT CEHS provided funding for the lab analyses; and Gradient Corporation for producing the risk analysis and the final report.  While this environmental study got underway, the public engagement activities and municipal debates began in earnest.   

The master plan was created after holding three public meetings with an open comment period.  The first public meeting was held on June 26, 2017 at the Malden Public Library in Malden, MA to assess the existing conditions of the river and to analyze what should be done. The attendance was excellent. Stakeholders gathered around maps to pinpoint parts of the Malden River they loved, and areas in need of improvement.  The second public meeting took place on August 8, 2017 at Rivers Edge in Malden, MA where Utile presented its initial concepts and shared the survey results from the first meeting. Over 80 participants attended, including people from all three surrounding cities.  People contributed to the workshop, sharing their reflections on the initial concepts from the first meeting, and commenting on sites for recreation, open space and community programming along the river.  Breakout groups made it possible again for each person to have the opportunity to participate (see Figure 2).

Fig. 2. COE2C Director Vandiver (second from left) enjoys listening and recording Malden residents’ input.  A large map of the Malden River is laid out on the table.  Mei Hung, (right) the Director of Malden’s Chinese Culture Connection (CCC) attended the meeting along with others from the CCC, broadening the participation during the August 8, 2017 second community meeting.  

 

The last of these specific public meetings about the Malden River took place along the riverfront in Everett on an unexpectedly balmy October evening.  The weather was just perfect for the exciting event, as it was held outdoors under a large tent at Village Landing Park in Everett, MA.  The final plan and drawings were revealed during this meeting.  Figures 3 and 4 illustrate how the Malden Greenway will reconnect neighborhoods and transform the river into an attractive amenity.

Fig 3.  The map above shows the proposed Malden Greenway creating a continuous multi-use path along both sides of the Malden River (2). The Greenway will connect to Mystic River parks (1) as well and to the bike way.  Currently under construction on two former brownfields are: the Wynn Boston Harbor Casino (3); and the River’s Edge apartments (4).  Proposed new features are: potential pedestrian bridge (5); and Evergreen Park with a sports arena, river park and Leeds certified industry (6) also on a former brownfield.  Any existing paths will be expanded for full use trail (7) and the Malden Metro “T” Station will be connected to the river head by well-marked path (8). The Malden Greenway is a key connecter to the Northern Strand Bike Path (9).  

 

In closing, although the FoMR is a small organization, this group is living up to its mission: “Our mission is to promote awareness of and interest in the Malden River, improve its water quality, and increase access for public enjoyment.” The COE2C Director Vandiver is pleased to be an integral part of FoMR’s leadership effort, working to improve the community’s environmental health around the Malden River.

Fig 4. The photograph above was taken at the recently completed River’s Edge apartment complex. It shows a restored Malden River bank and a multi-use trail with vegetation. The private dock on the river belongs to Tufts University, and it is utilized by their crew teams.   

 

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