The First Public Swim in the Charles River in 50 Years

More than 140 people took the plunge.

These people swam in the Charles River. On purpose. All photos provided by Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy.

These people swam in the Charles River. On purpose. All photos provided by Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy.

Going for a swim in the Charles used to be something that you’d only do on a dare. And if you’ve ever spent a hot, summer day getting some sun on one of the Esplanade’s docks, you’ve probably wished you could jump in, but the yellow-tinged river’s past would remind you to stay put.

Last week, we reported on the first public swim in the river in more than 50 years, and it went off without a hitch. “Fifteen years ago, swimming in the Charles would have been unthinkable,” says Bob Zimmerman, Charles River Watershed Association executive director. “We are pleased that [the] work restoring the river, along with our 18 years of water quality monitoring and testing has paid off and a community swim is now possible.”

Jump on in. All photos provided by Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy.

Jump on in. All photos provided by Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy.

You may have seen people swimming in the Charles before. The Charles River Swimming Club hosts a popular one-mile swim race, which was held on June 1st of this year. This race, however, is an exclusive competitive U.S. Masters swim, and not open to the general public. The community swim event that happened July 13th was for people seeking a recreational swimming experience in the Charles River. Recreational swimming was banned in the 1950s.

But after a $500 million restoration, the water quality has improved from an EPA grade D in 1995 to a grade B in 2011. Today, the Conservancy says, the Charles River is one of the cleanest urban rivers in the U.S., meeting the state standards for safe swimming most days of the summer. “Educating the public about the health of the Charles is so important, and every summer, [there are] color-coded flags daily at 11 participating boathouses in the lower basin to inform people of the river’s water quality,” Zimmerman says.

Not so dirty water. All photos provided by Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy.

Not so dirty water. All photos provided by Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy.

The Esplanade is one of the prettiest public parks in the country and boating has always been extremely popular, but it turns out that the Conservancy has been aiming to bring swimming to the docks for some time. “For more than a decade, the Conservancy has been working to bring public swimming back to the Charles River,” said Renata von Tscharner, Charles River Conservancy president. “Swimming has been central to our advocacy efforts to expand recreational opportunities in the river and parklands. This public swim event marks an exciting milestone for the many individuals and groups who are dedicated to restoring the Charles.”

For more information on future swims this summer, visit thecharles.org.

Saturday on the charles. swimmers will be a new site for people in duck boats. All photos provided by Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy.

Saturday on the charles. swimmers will be a new sight for people in duck boats. All photos provided by Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy.

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  • jimbo jones

    bacterial counts are down which is wonderful but the syringes I regularly see floating past down stream will still prevent me from taking the plunge

  • http://twitter.com/at_nguyen_huynh Anhtuan Nguyen Huynh

    Love it @AT_Nguyen_Huynh