This week, the US Army Corps of Engineers marked a historic milestone for Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system—the completion of the Muddy River Flood Risk Management Project! Gathering at the Agassiz Road Duck House on Wednesday, representatives from USACE were joined by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, city and state officials, community partners and others to celebrate the conclusion of this decades-spanning effort, which began its first phase in 2013 after years of planning.  

The Muddy River is the central waterway of the Emerald Necklace, a seven-mile linear park system Olmsted designed in the late 19th century. These parks connect over a dozen neighborhoods and provide them with much-needed greenspace amid a bustling, growing Boston.  

Today, the Necklace is known as one of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed examples of green infrastructure, meticulously sculpted with organic materials to protect against flooding and filter out urban pollutants. However, this was not always the case. Throughout the 20th century, infrastructure decisions to accommodate car traffic led to decades of neglect in the parks, culminating in a catastrophic flood in Boston’s Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods in 1996. The rescue of the Muddy was the primary reason the Emerald Necklace Conservancy was founded in 1997, and the organization has spent the last 25 years leading the charge on restoration, supporting and collaborating with the partners on this expansive project.  

Over the past decade, the $92 Million project has included the daylighting of river sections that were buried underground, the removal of invasive plant species such as Phragmites australis—a reed which overtook the waterway in recent years—and dredging 90,000 cubic yards of accumulated sediment from the riverbed. These actions, coupled with the planting of new native vegetation along the riverbanks, have improved the Muddy’s flood capacity and restored a historic ecosystem after generations of disrepair. 

Boston Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods praised the Conservancy’s continued support of the project at the ceremony: “For three decades, the ENC has helped protect, restore and maintain the Emerald Necklace parks designed by Olmsted,” he said. “In addition to advocacy and regular participation in the [Muddy River Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee], they have also helped with wayfinding and additional project signage, by using their watering truck to help newly-planted trees…just to name a couple things they jumped right in on. On behalf of the sponsors, we want to thank you for your collaboration and support!” 

Thanks to years of hard work by countless advocates and partners at the city, state and federal level, the Muddy River is now functioning how Olmsted intended. The Emerald Necklace—considered by Olmsted himself to be among his “most important work”—can continue to serve as an 1,100-acre ally in Boston’s fight against the effects of climate change! 

Declan Battles
Marketing and Communications Manager
Emerald Necklace Conservancy