Monday, November 19, 2012

Muddy River Restoration Project Breaks Ground!

The Muddy River is one of the central features of the Emerald Necklace, connecting Olmsted Park, the Riverway and the Back Bay Fens to the Charles River. In recent years, the river has been subject to dramatic flooding, overflowing its banks into adjacent roadways and properties. The parkland along the river has been greatly altered from its historic 1895 character with the banks of the river now full of invasive plants and views to the river blocked.  Over time, silt and trash have built up in the river bottom.  Parts of the river have also been put into culverts, eliminating the continuity of the river.

The Muddy River Restoration Project seeks to reclaim the historic character of the river while reducing the risks and economic damage of flooding. Two important areas of the river previously buried will be day-lighted along with the re-creation of an Olmsted-designed island within the river’s course. A groundbreaking ceremony was held last month, signaling the start of an Olmsted restoration project decades in the making.

Pressley Associates is the historic landscape consultant and landscape architect for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) for the river dredging and restoration between the former Sears Roebuck parking lot and Avenue Louis Pasteur in the historic Back Bay Fens of Boston. Working in close coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation and the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, Pressley assisted the ACOE in the configuration, alignment, and bank stabilization of the river and island.

Utilizing Olmsted planting plans as a basis for design, new planting plans were designed for the re-vegetation of the new river banks and existing banks impacted by dredging operations. The historic plant lists were used as starting point for plant species selection, though plants were also selected for long term sustainability using a palette of mostly native plants. Emergent and wetland plants were selected for placement along the river’s edge to create a wetland shelf as recommended in the previously completed Environmental Impact Report. Historic views to the river are maintained by the use of lower growing shrubs and groundcovers, using larger plants to frame the original Olmsted views. Designs have carried over into the adjacent upland park landscape where new tree plantings and pedestrian pathways were laid out following Olmsted’s original design. 

To learn more about the project visit the Muddy River Restoration Project Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee (MMOC) website at:

This 1905 photograph shows the area of the historic Muddy River landscape that will be restored, including the Olmsted-designed island within the river.

In the 1950s, Sears Roebuck & Company (seen at right) purchased a portion of the historic Olmsted-designed park and culverted portions of the Muddy River in order to build a parking lot. When Sears moved their operations, the parking lot was covered and planted in turf. The Muddy River still flows beneath this former parking lot.

This image, taken from within the former Sears building, shows the existing character of the landscape to be restored. The Muddy River flows in culverts below the deteriorated turf landscape.