By Dan Murphy and Lauren Bennett
A revitalized Charlesgate Park could boast a 14,000 square-foot playground, according to members of a team devising a plan to reclaim the “key link” that connects the Kenmore, Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods and would unite the Charles River Esplanade, the Emerald Necklace and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall into a single-park system.
“Its size gives us a lot of opportunities to do things in the playground itself,” said Marie Law Adams, a founding principal of the Landing Studio, a Somerville-based architectural firm, during a meeting sponsored by the nonprofit Charlesgate Alliance Tuesday at Boston University’s Kilachand Hall.
The playground would be located on the North Field of the proposed park while a dog park is planned for its South Field and likely divided into two sections to accommodate two different age groups. A path running through the middle of the playground would provide vehicle access for site inspections, as well as repairs on the Bowker Overpass above, and benches would be installed overlooking a walkway adjacent to the Muddy River.
The playground would likely have a poured rubber surface and be surrounded by a 42-inch-tall steel picket fence, since the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). has indicated a preference for both of those materials.
“It’s more expensive upfront, but longer lasting and easy to maintain,” Adams said of the poured rubber. “It also comes with more color options.”
Dan Adams, also a Landing Studio founding principal, said the design for Charlesgate Park, including the playground, should be finalized and an estimated $10 million to cover all the construction costs in place by the end of 2020.
Following another cleanup and more issues with drug use in Charlesgate Park last week, President of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy Mauney-Brokek told the Sun about some of the other positives aside from the playground that are going into Charlesgate Park right now that could help abate what has been going on at that location.
Mauney-Brokek explained that Charlesgate Park was the first park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for the Emerald Necklace.
“Over time as the City and State has added roads and other things; some of the glory of the park has declined,” she said, “but I think we’re in the process right now where a lot of attention is being focused on this by the Conservancy and the new community groups. We’ve had a lot of small wins that I think add up.”
For example, last year, the first movie night was held in Charlegate Park and brought out many families and members of the community. Additionally, the DCR has fixed the lights in the park, as well as replaced the fence. Red chairs have also been placed out in the park for people to stop and enjoy the surroundings.
So far, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy has raised over $650,000 to have a full community design process to determine what else the community would like to see in the park.
Mauney-Brodek said that what they often find is that activities like the proposed playground and dog park, as well as more seating areas—amenities that draw people in—become a positive, and can help fix some of the challenges that Charlesgate Park currently faces.
Additionally, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy held a clean-up in February, and have another one scheduled in April. This year’s Party in the Park fundraiser will be benefitting the project at Charlesgate Park, and Mauney-Brodek said that the Emerald Necklace Conservancy is having conversations with “important institutions in the area,” as well as organizations on the city and state level who are “very interested in this project coming to fruition.”
Mauney-Brodek said that some of the community feedback received about the park so far is that people have a real desire to clean up the Muddy River, as there is lots of debris in the water, which returns after it has been cleaned out. She said that the DCR cleans up the water once a year, and they are exploring whether or not there are ways to have it cleaned in a different way or on a more regular basis.
Another big request is an off-leash dog play area, as a lot of people currently travel far from their homes in the area to take their dogs to an off-leash park. Mauney-Brodek said that there is an opportunity to create “a very large off-leash dog play area” that would provide a lot of regular attention to the site by users. The goal for Charlesgate Park is to find ways to bring more people to the area to help with some of the issues and concerns that are associated with the park as it is now. Another movie night is also planned for this coming September, she added.
The project would also increase connectivity between Charlesgate Park, the Esplanade, and the Back Bay, as the creation of Storrow Drive and the Bowker Overpass have severed the link.
Mauney-Brodek said that a full design for implementation will be ready as soon as the end of this year, and encourages the public to stay involved and contribute suggestions and ideas.
The Charlesgate Alliance, which was established more than three years ago with the goal of reclaiming the park that was designed by Olmsted in 1878 but razed in the mid-1960s to build the Bowker, will hold another public meeting on the proposed dog park on Tuesday, March 31.
By Dan Murphy and Lauren Bennett