Cleaning and Cruising the Malden River

Author: Karen Buck, Friends of the Malden River

On the eve of the Autumnal Equinox, two Gentle Giants towed ten canoes from the Blessing of the Bay up the Malden River. This evening was as magical as the previous sentence suggests. How can I describe it better as two launch boats of the Gentle Giant Rowing Club (GGRC) motored up the Malden River with ten canoes, a minister and his wife at stern, during twilight? The mostly obedient canoes snaked behind the motor boats as Rich Whelan of GGRC entertained me with stories of bridging youth with the waters of the Mystic River and the Malden River. The return trip to the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse was under the waxing gibbous moon guided by city lights. At the end of the ride, Minister Edwin Menon exclaimed, “Now, I really know why you love this river.” This water ferry was an early celebration of the next day's community clean-up.

By 8:15 Saturday morning, there were over 71 people mingling in the parking lot of 188 Commercial Street in Malden. The group was inaugurated by Pastor Edwin Menon of Highrock Malden Church and his wife, Kelsey Menon. Mayor Christenson and Councilor Ryan welcomed the mass. Then the group was unleashed to begin one of the largest community cleanups in Malden River’s recent history. During the whole event, about 100 people contributed their time, their laughter, and their huge efforts to restore our Malden River back to its natural state.  

The Malden River embraced the ten canoes donated by PaddleBoston Somerville. Eighteen youth hopped into the boats during that morning, all of them for the first time on the Malden River and some for the first time in a canoe. Renee Hoekstra, an avid paddleboarder, proved to us that there is a multitude of ways to tackle trash. We all learned about the amount of trash that is windblown or is rushed through the storm water drainage system that lands in the Malden River, travels to the Mystic River, then to the Boston Harbor into our great oceans. There are gargantuan trash vortexes populated by pieces of trash smaller than paper clips as the trash breaks down in its path towards our oceans.  Unfortunately, we discovered that some residents also illegally dump their trash the banks of our rivers. This cleanup also focused on removing trash from booms set up by the City of Malden-these booms were FULL of trash after just 5 days.

The Malden River was once highly polluted and used as a disposal site for riverside industries.  This has changed since the industries left in the 1920’s. The 1972 Clean Water Act has been instrumental in protecting our water bodies. There have been massive cleanups such as the Telecom City site (River’s Edge) and Monsanto site (Encore Casino). But, some of the public still  perceives the Malden River as dirty. Another large percentage are not familiar with the river due to lack of public access. The Malden River is walled off from our community.

Dirty is a dirty word because it is can be a misnomer and turns people away from potential beauty.  There are basically three aspects of “dirty”: The sediment on the bottom of the river; the water column, and the trash littered on its banks. The sediment on the bottom of the river is contaminated by heavy metals from industrial waste. The Malden River is no longer tidal due to the Amelia Earhart Dam. This settles the contaminants which pose risk when disturbed. The water column is mostly affected by the storm water drainage system. The water quality is usally compromised during 24 hours of a rainfall of more than .5 inch. The Mystic River Watershed has formulated a recreational flagging system based on a year of water sampling and a resulting algorithm that can predict the water quality. The litter found on the banks is something that can be remedied by prevention, education and action. Don’t walk over litter; it lands up in our water systems.

Yes...a lot of trash was picked up.  We counted 76 bags of trash in addition to miscellaneous items, obviously illegally dumped.  Another major achievement was bringing 100 people to the Malden River and nurturing river and land stewards.   

View photographs of the cleanup here. Thank you, Anne D'Urso-Rose of MATV and Kelsey Menon, for the images!