Charlesgate Alliance, ENC Provide Update on Charlesgate Park Revitalization Project

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC) and the Charlesgate Alliance held a public meeting on November 19 regarding the Charlesgate Park Revitalization project. Nearly 100 people tuned into the virtual meeting to learn about some proposed updates to the project and the vision for the space as a whole, including the daylighting of the Muddy River along with the restoration of the Fens Pond Bridge, and the daylighting of the mouth of the Muddy River to connect it with the Esplanade.

ENC President Karen Mauney-Brodek said that the ENC and the Charlesgate Alliance are thinking about this project on three different scales: “on the ground, day-to-day stewardship, the park design, [and], big picture vision.” The vision for Charlesgate Park is to activate the space and bring it to life, creating amenities that will draw people to the area.

Parker James of the Charlesgate Alliance gave an update on some recent meetings and progress related to the revitalization project. Among others, there was a meeting in March regarding the design of the playground portion of the park, and in April there was a meeting regarding the proposed dog park area.

James said that also in March was a homelessness resources meeting with city and state offi-cials that brought together Boston Police, state police, the Boston Public Health Commission,  and the office of City Councilor Kenzie Bok to work out ways to provide resources to homeless folks who have been setting up camp in Charlesgate Park. “It turned out to be a really pivotal meeting,” he said.

He also said that the ENC has provided social distancing signage throughout the Emerald Necklace Parks, and the Charlesgate Alliance has used funds for Project Place to help clean up and take care of the park, which he said they hope to resume in the spring.

Several Muddy River projects have also taken place, including a summer water surface clean-up as well as one on November 16 and the launching of the Water Goat trash net pilot by the Muddy Water Initiative.

Additionally, part of the proposal for the park includes the removal of some non-structural walls to open up the area, and the Charlesgate Alliance hopes to be a recipient of a matching grant from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to help fund the removal of the walls, James said.

PARK DESIGN UPDATES

Marie Law Adams of Landing Studio, the architecture firm designing the project, presented some design updates. The north field is where the playground area will be located, and the south field will be home to the dog park. She said the project also includes a “shared use pathway that will link up to a project from MassDOT.”

Additionally, areas designated as “The Grove” and “The Patio” will be updated to “make it a little more inviting and usable for the neighborhood,” she said.

“Something we’ve been working really hard on is how to manage drainage on the site through green stormwater infrastructure,” Law Adams said, using plants and other methods to better manage stormwater.

She said this site presents a challenge because the property is managed by three different entities and drainage comes from multiple locations: MassDOT from the Bowker overpass, the DCR from Charlesgate East and West, and the City of Boston from Commonwealth Ave. west of Charlesgate.

She said that by creating separate treatment plans for each of these entities, maintenance will be “simplified” after the project is completed, and the Charlesgate Alliance will also be participating in some of the maintenance as well.

“One of our next steps is to do some preliminary meetings with permitting authorities,” Law Adams said, which will “have an impact on the time it takes to complete the design.” She said that right now, the project might be ready to go out for bid and construction in the spring of 2022, but that could be pushed back closer to the fall.

She said that a conceptual soil management study has been done, and it was determined that any soil dug up on the site as part of the project can be kept on the site. That was the hope, as it is “less expensive and more environmentally friendly to keep as much of the soil that you dig up on the site” as possible, Law Adams said, rather than taking it to a landfill, as it reduces trucking.

She said that the park currently dips and slopes in certain areas, and a goal of the project is to raise the grade for accessibility purposes, so the soil can be put to use in that regard.

BIG PICTURE VISION

Margaret Pokorny of the Charlesgate Alliance gave some updates on the bigger picture vision for the park, which includes daylighting the Muddy River at the Fens Pond Bridge, which would also be restored. A path system would also be created, including landscaping at the river’s edge and the creation of habitat for wildlife.

Daylighting at the mouth of the Muddy River would also allow for a connection between the Esplanade and the Emerald Necklace with a new bridge, Pokorny said.

She said that the daylighting of the Muddy River “would help the Muddy River and the whole situation at the junction of the Charles and the Muddy.”

Pam Beale of the Charlesgate Alliance said that letters to Governor Baker and Rep. Aaron Michlewitz have been sent out in support of the MassDOT projects, including the Storrow Drive Eastbound Bridge replacement and the Bowker Overpass Bridge, as well as the Charlesgate Park project to “advocate for the best possible project outcomes” so all of the projects can work together. She said that there is support from Mayor Walsh, Councilor Bok, State Senator Will Brownsberger and State Reps. Jay Livingstone and Jon Santiago, among others.

 “To me, Charlesgate is such a transformative potential project,” City Councilor Kenzie Bok said, adding that she has been walking in the area often recently and “thinking a lot about how much I would appreciate the opportunity to wander through Charlesgate and the fens” without using the “clunky” footbridges that exist now.

She said she is an “ally from the city side” of the project, and hopes that the state will get on board with this process.

MassDOT is in the process of designing part one of the bridge replacement projects, according to Karen Mauney-Brodek, which she said “will add momentum and could support some of the elements of the project that we’re working towards in the heart of Charlesgate.”

She said the first portion of the MassDOT bridge projects is expected to begin construction in 2023. “They are on a road and we would like to make sure it’s the road we like,” she added.

Mauney-Brodek said that she was “excited about the fact that we can explain in pictures” the daylighting proposal and that MassDOT “is already essentially committed to moving the road so there can be connections.” She added that “DOT said they wouldn’t do anything to prevent daylighting,” so she said those involved in the project believe that now is a good time to do the daylighting.

Many people at the meeting said they would be willing to advocate on behalf of this entire project and volunteer their time as well as donate money towards the cause. Overall, the project is well-received by the community and it is evident that many residents want to be as active as possible in making it happen.

Mauney-Brodek said that people can become involved in this effort by telling their neighbors about the project, joining the Charlesgate Alliance, following the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and Charlesgate Alliance on social media, coming to events and meetings, reaching out to elected officials expressing support, and considering a tax deductible donation.

Parker James said that the Charlesgate Alliance needs to find out about the matching grants fund, and if funds are received, how the organization will raise the matching funds. Additionally, further work on the dog park and playground design will continue, and spring cleanups are planned for next year as well.

Mauney-Brodek added that other next steps include coming back to the community in the spring with an update on the progress of the project, as well as how MassDOT has “found ways to do the things discussed,” and “how to bring different energies and funding opportunities to do right by the park here.”

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