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Muddy River

"River" is perhaps too grandiloquent a word for the Muddy River - a collection of brooks, ponds and culverts that runs 3.5 miles from near Jamaica Pond to the Charles River and which serves as the Boston/Brookline line.

Still the Muddy, which runs through the heart of the Emerald Necklace, offers a bucolic respite from life in the heavily urbanized areas it passes through. And we ignore it at our peril - as we learned in 1996, when the river overflowed its banks and culverts, causing $70 million in damage and shutting the Green Line's Kenmore station for several days.

Ward's Pond in very early spring:

Over the years, the Muddy River has become something of an open-air sewer, thanks to illegal sewage outfalls and antiquated legal sewers that dump sewage-laced stormwater into the river whenever we get a lot of rain. Boston and Brookline have been working for more than a decade on plans to clean up the water, do something to reduce future flooding and get rid of the phragmites reeds that are slowly choking off the river. Below, a pollution boom offers a handy perch for tired ducks to catch some winks:

You're a city health official and you don't want people to eat fish from the river. So where do you put a warning sign? Why 10 feet up on a light poll at a nearby baseball field, of course:

The Brookline and Boston banks of the river between Perkins and Willow Pond streets are a study in contrast. The Brookline side is a classic suburban kind of park - asphalt walkways and carefully tended grass and plantings invite joggers and strollers, who can rest on any of several benches. The Boston side is literally going to seed. It's become a wild, brambly mini-forest, where you can ponder the question of whether trees make noise when they fall and nobody's around - at least until you realize that somebody might hear them after all, because at least one person seems to have taken up residence there (in April, 2004, the cardboard shelter seemed to be in fairly good shape). The paths are all unpaved and the light poles have all been snapped off at the base - such as the one that has this marking:

Did this tree make a sound?

Below, a culvert built to replace an earlier connection between Willow Pond and Leverett Pond.

At Leverett Pond, the Muddy widens out as it passes the Longwood medical district:

What a nut!

After a cold winter, life returns to a small pond on the Boston side that feeds into the river:


Ooooo that fish sign is scary. There is a cute, little, elderly, Asian man, he speaks no English and strolls down my street every night in the summer with his bucket, his rod with the little red and white bobber and heads to the park at the end of my street where he fishes for hours. I am not sure what he catches, if anything, but I would bet he probably eats whatever it is.

jo on April 8, 2004 08:54 AM.

I worked about 7 years ago for the now defunct US Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Lab out in Hubbardston MA. One of the projects we had was to analyze mud samples from the Little River. Lets just say that the "Do not eat the fish" signs aren't exaggerating. I wouldn't even want to come in contact with that mud. They were some of the most contaminated samples we'd seen with high levels of heavy metals, toxic organic compounds (VOCs), and fecal coliform. Some of it comes from old industrial sites that no longer exist and some comes from illegal sewer hookups that Brookline has yet to fix. Pollutants can sit in river bed mud for generations and they concentrate in feeders such as fish.

Mark K on April 8, 2004 09:52 AM.

Great info !
What would you say if I told you the river never overflowed its banks in 1996 or in 1998 (the floodwaters came from street sand plugging the covered conduits and back flow from the river Charles Basin containment) The high water level of 18.5 feet in the main stem was actually caused by error and gross mismanagement at the 1978 Joy Street DAM and Pumping Station..This
DAM, specifically built for flood control....see report of Rain Storm Events 96 and 98, compiled at the time, by Brookline Village Action Group ,in ref rm..Main Library Brookline.

Brendan Donovan on January 10, 2005 12:27 PM.

I really like the picture of the squirrel he's super cute!
BTW i am that asian man and i catch squirrels and eat them not fish so ha!

Helen Keller on December 4, 2007 10:15 AM.

I'm not sure whether this blog is still active; no recetn posts, but here goes. I have learned recently about a group of people who are looking to undertake a "rehabilitation" of the muddy river. As most folks know, sometimes this can be a good thing and sometimes it causes more damage during the 'rehab' phase than necessary. From the sounds of it, this project will be a 'tare down and destroy to rebuild' type project. The damage to current habitat and eco systems will be enormous. In some cases it is best to leave sleeping dog (or in this case sediment) alone and focus on the dog that is awake (enhancing/improving the active river and its banks as they are). I ask people to please take a look at this project and speak up for the river and it inhabitants that can not.

Brenda Haraldstad on December 8, 2007 12:12 PM.

I'm reading "THe Salem With Judge" by Eve LaPlante. In the late 1600's, a major portion of the LAND in and arouond Boston, Roxbury, and extending to the Charles River was know as Muddy River. I wonder if anyone knows the exact origin of the name?

Penny on May 13, 2008 08:02 AM.

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