In this guest post, Malden resident Monique Ching provides her impressions of the Malden River Walk, and Mystic River Watershed Association's Greenways Director Amber Christoffersen responds.
I. The Resident
If you ask any Maldonian whether they use the Malden River Walk you will likely get one of two responses: “No,” or “We have a river walk?” Although the trail is less than a ten-minute walk from Malden Center Station, its location isn’t known to many.
The trail is so underused that it remains underneath snow for most of the winter months. During warmer weather, geese like to congregate near the shady trailhead (leaving little surprises along the path) and get aggressive when they feel walkers and runners are a threat to their goslings.
It’s a shame that the trail is so unappealing, because it has a lot of potential. A simple extension along the river’s western shore would allow employees from the Piantedosi Baking factory and the Super 88 market to enjoy a stroll along the riverbank during their breaks.
On the eastern shore, clients of Anthony’s event hall and the Cambridge Health Alliance would likely find a paved walking path more appealing than the existing gravel surface.
At last year’s New England Muslim Festival, the event was held at the river trail head, but all of the activities took place in the parking lot, where festival-goers had to fight for shade and grass to sit on. A well-kept trail has the potential to boost business, community health, and event engagement.
The only portion of the Malden River Walk that has seen much investment is the section that abuts the new River’s Edge apartment complex in Medford. But even there the space is underused, as it remains cut off by the busy Commercial Street thoroughfare and is difficult to access from Malden Center.
To help boost commercial growth and make downtown Malden a real destination, City leaders should look to connect and enhance natural community assets like the Malden River Walk. An attractive and well-maintained path could vastly improve the quality of life for residents, workers and visitors in Malden and the surrounding areas.
Monique Ching is a resident of Malden and an avid runner. (All photos courtesy of the author.)
II. The Planner
|Photo: Robert Castagna
As I’ve led participatory planning processes for dozens of path and park projects across the watershed over the last two years, I’ve heard many impressions similar to Monique’s: “I don’t know how to access the river to enjoy it” - “The river is dirty, inaccessible, industrial, buried, lost opportunity” - “It’s hard to get to. Where is it?” I’ve also heard from people like Monique who are able to recognize its potential: “We’re lucky to have a river, let’s take advantage of it!”
The Malden River has a complicated environmental history. For nearly 150 years, the river, located in the cities of Everett, Medford and Malden, served as the industrial sewer for oil refineries, coal processing, tanneries and chemical production. Significant physical and psychological barriers prevent public access, including disconnected paths, rail corridors, industrial uses, and contaminated land.
Despite these challenges, public use is increasing and redevelopment is planned. Youth from local high schools and Tufts University now regularly row on the river and thanks to municipal leadership, the riverfront is on its way to becoming a central open space amenity for the three cities. In 2016, our organization led a participatory design process – the Malden River Greenway Vision Plan – to create a roadmap for transforming the river into a world-class park system. We partnered with the local design firm, Utile, as well as Friends of the Malden River, Bike to Sea, Preotle Lane and Associates, Wynn Boston Harbor, the Solomon Foundation and the cities of Everett, Malden and Medford.
|Photo: Herb Nolan (The photo features Amber Christoffersen on the section Monique wrote about near the new River's Edge development)
More than 300 community members participated in online surveys, design workshops and focus groups, to create a shared-use vision plan that recommends new shared-use paths, parks, pedestrian bridges and boating opportunities in the Mystic River Watershed area. While some elements of the plan will take years to build, there are several project in progress now:
- Everett’s newest waterfront park and outdoor recreation center, Rivergreen, is under construction.
- Two bicycle and pedestrian underpasses at the Woods Memorial Bridge will be complete by the end of 2018.
- There are several additional waterfront path projects in the design phase.
It’s critical that residents like Monique keep this vision alive in the community and hold decision-makers at the state, local and neighborhood level accountable. We need residents to demand for more, as one workshop participated noted, “We’re not aiming high enough.” We need to ask more of developers, of local government, and of each other.
Amber Christoffersen is Greenways Director for the Mystic River Watershed Association.
The Mystic River Watershed Association is the steward and advocate for the waterways and parklands of the Mystic River Watershed, a 76-mile area with more than 500,000 residents, the most densely populated in the state. Our work centers on connecting residents like Monique with decision-makers to raise visibility of and improve our rivers, lakes, parks and paths.