Into the Mystic: Reclaiming Somerville’s waterfront

On August 1, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

mayor_webBy Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

The environmental wellbeing of the Mystic River is essential to Somerville, but the river has been cut off from the rest of the city by highways and heavy industry for too long. Today, we are undoing those mistakes of the past, with the gorgeous revitalization of Baxter Park at Assembly Square the first step in reconnecting Somerville with its riverfront, an achievement for which we owe thanks to the Department of Conservation and Recreation and our partners at Federal Realty. Assembly Square is Somerville’s newest neighborhood, but the opening of Baxter Park was really a rebirth—a recapturing of our waterfront and our history. It’s the riverfront park our community has always deserved. Six acres of waterfront green space, a new dock, and accessible walk and bike pathways along the Mystic, crowned by an amphitheater—perfect for a community as devoted to the arts as Somerville.

Restoring parkland along the Mystic’s shores can only be the first step. This water system needs cleaning and care so it can continue to be a vital resource for our community and so we can reclaim it as a recreational and environmental jewel. Our state Rep. Denise Provost has submitted a bill currently before the House of Representatives that would establish a Mystic River Water quality commission, which would undertake the important work of studying this significant natural resource for Somerville and 21 other cities and towns. For decades the Mystic—one of the three major rivers flowing into Boston Harbor—has suffered from industrial uses and contamination. Now we are reclaiming it and this bill is a critical part of continuing that reclamation.

Envisioning the inherent potential in the waters of the Mystic requires only looking to the other iconic waterway flowing into Boston Inner Harbor. Every day, the Charles River is scattered with kayaks and sailboats, with people relaxing on the shore and wildlife in abundance. Swimming is now allowed by permit.

This could be the Mystic, too. A reclaimed Mystic River with wildlife, boating and yes, even swimming, is not only an environmental achievement but a catalyst for a different kind of economic potential, one that eschews the industrial economy of the past that used the river as a dumping ground and instead embraces the river as a resource onto itself that can spur the vibrancy that makes our other neighborhoods so successful. In dense cities, green and open space is social space. It’s where we meet our neighbors and new friends, where we play and relax, join in community events and take part in the social fabric of our community. That in turn supports local businesses. It’s that outside life that makes a great city. Our home doesn’t stop at our front doors—it’s extended throughout our neighborhoods because of inviting open spaces like Baxter Park and, in the future, along the shores of the Mystic River.

While efforts to restore the Charles began decades ago, it accelerated in the mid-90s when the EPA officially made a swimmable Charles one of its goals, and the Legislature passed and Gov. William Weld signed the Rivers Protection Act. Since then, the Charles’ water quality grade from the EPA has risen from a D to a B+. The Mystic River still has a D grade. If we can commit to cleaning and restoring the Mystic the same way we committed to the Charles, starting with the passage of Rep. Provost’s bill, we can make the same dramatic turnaround a reality on Somerville’s shores.

Fortunately, we have partners already committed to the cause. The Mystic River Watershed Association and Tufts University collaborate to undertake the challenges of cleaning the river. Earlier this month, we celebrated the second year of a state grant that helps restore the Mystic by removing invasive water chestnut plants that choke the river, impacting both recreational opportunities on the water and the river’s ecology. The Mystic River Water Watershed Association has been a huge contributor to this effort, inviting volunteers on four days this summer to remove water chestnuts, with the final event scheduled for the second weekend in August.

Somerville is also doing its part to restore the Mystic through active stormwater management—from the way we clean our streets, to continually improving our below ground infrastructure, to building innovative sustainability features into our parks and open spaces that reuses stormwater, so that instead of running off into the Mystic and overcharging our water and sewer lines, it’s helping us sustain our green spaces.

Envision a Mystic that is swimmable. That is the goal and we can achieve it together, if we can commit to a course of action. The Charles River is a undeniable example of what we can accomplish when we set a goal and put in the work. Let’s do it for the Mystic, too.


18 Responses to “Into the Mystic: Reclaiming Somerville’s waterfront”

  1. Bob says:

    You can’t even see the Mystic River from Shore Drive why can’t we trim the vegetation up and trim branches not cut but trim so you Can SEE the river

  2. ritepride says:

    Good point Bob. There have been women robbed/attacked along the river pathways due to the gross overgrown vegetation in the area. A welcome mat for predators/robbers. The whole purpose of the project on both sides of the river was for people/families to be able to have safe access and enjoy the area. The way it is now it does not safely exist.
    If a person falls or a boat overturns in the water in cannot be seen due to the overgrown vegetation. Lets get all our elected officials down there on weekends and hand them a weed wacker and let them earn their salaries.

  3. Luke says:

    Great column. I hope we can do this. I row in the Mystic and Malden, and I would dearly love to see cleaner water.

  4. protected says:

    the dense vegetation is politically protected. It’s a popular meeting spot for gay men to “get to know each other”. any attempt to remove it will be blocked for that reason. I’ve known people who were mugged, or walked in on something disturbing. There have been calls to remove it but it doesn’t happen.

  5. Georgy says:

    Agree with the point about trimming the riverside vegetation along Shore Drive – serving both safety and aesthetic purposes. Also, what about Draw 7 Park? I think the long term goal is to connect that to the revitalization of Assembly, but what is the plan?

    Would love to see Somerville’s Mystic shores echo the Mystic River Reservation across the way in Medford.

  6. sally says:

    Overgrown vegetation is nothing. Just wait until people start using that under-bridge pathway. Talk about secluded!

  7. Karen L. Grossman says:

    Great article, Mayor Curatone! We’d definitely benefit from having a Mystic River Water Quality Commission. Thanks for supporting cleanup of the Mystic River. Readers can go to to find out how they can get involved in the next water chestnut removal on the Mystic River and attend the Mystic River Watershed Association’s Committee meetings held at Tufts University the first Tuesday evening at 7 PM each month. There are informative speakers the first hour and you can get involved in the Clean Water Campaign and the Policy Committee the second hour.

  8. agreed says:

    absolutely agreed. Took a stroll and it’s lovely, but it screams out Mug Me

  9. Green says:

    Since y’all are experts about crime and outdoor fornication… anyone know how many crimes are reported there? Im guessing the numbers are negligible and you are all just looking for something to complain about.

  10. agreed says:

    well, Green, take yourself for a walk among the vegetation if you feel we’re just griping here. I dare ya. I personally know several people who were approached for an encounter or walked in on one. I know a young man who was mugged there. I’ve never checked the stats, but let me know how your walk goes.

  11. sally says:

    Mr. Green, I don’t know if the stats are negligible or not, but I suspect with the ripe pickings over at Assembly Square stats could increase. Don’t forget there are no stats for the under the bridge walkway. Those could become interesting.

  12. Green says:

    Agreed… perhaps you are pixi’s alter ego… personally knowing several people who were solicited for an illicit encounter and others who were mugged… all these anecdotes and so little evidence.

  13. agreed says:

    I assure you I am not. My posts are far too brief.

  14. Paul says:

    The Mystic is a great resource. But while the Mayor speaks of the benefits of such a wonderful waterway, its unfortunate that the city, under his supervision has failed to step up to the plate financially as others have. For several years now prior to the funding of the master plan, the City of Medford, The Mystic Watershed, Tufts University, area boat clubs and others have pledged and fulfilled their pledges of thousands of dollars in a matching plan for state funds that has been used to fund mechanical harvesting and handpicking. It is my understanding that Somerville did indeed participate one year but has remained on the sideline since.

  15. Johnnie Jazz says:

    Green, take a walk over at the Mystic River Reservation and then get back to us – if you make it back. Or you’re one of the dudes hanging in the reeds. I told my daughter to not go near there – and then I realized I better tell my son too!

    Sketchy area and the cops can’t do anything about it because a protected group are the ones doing all the sketchy stuff. All those tax dollars wasted so a bunch of sickos — too cheap to grab a room – have to make a public park their own personal brothel. If it was female hookers soliciting men then you know the cops would setup a sting, but it’s men with men so the cops realize their hands are tied for PC reasons. Too bad as they made pathways and area nice.

  16. PixiePocahontas says:


    How’s the hack job going? Are you posting at the expense of taxpayers millions? Leave my name out of your hateful propaganda.

  17. PixiePocahontas says:


    Are you certain about scenario #2? I would challenge that assumption.

    I took my dog for a walk there once and never went back. Looks like it could be a place to hide lots of unnoticed activity, all of it bad.

    And yes, I did witness “sketchiness”, lots of reed russeling and prairie dogs.
    Why don’t they send in a crew of senior workers from DPW equipped with some weed wackers for a few months? That just might solve that problem. But don’t stereotype, married men have been known to frequent truck stops, so maybe that’s why LE avoids the place. Happens in other parts of the state. Just ask anyone not married who ventures there. Sometimes truth is crazier than fiction.

  18. Corny says:

    Although I live in Somerville, I usually kayak on the Mystic only in Medford. A friend and I paddled down to the locks in May and found the wide area in front of the Blessing of the Bay boathouse to be full of tangled weeds and huge carp that jumped a foot out of the water next to our boats. I imagine that anyone who fell in would become tangled in the weeds. Can that area be dredged of weeds and Carp?

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