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The Birds are Back!

6 Apr

In April, nearly every day of observing at MB brings a special treat. Today, the air is raw and the wind is strong, but my internal complaint about the slowness of spring is interrupted by the sight of a bird with long, crooked dark brown wings moving high over the water.  As it comes into full view, its underside is white, its wings banded black and white with dark patches at the crook, and its eyes sport a black band.   This first Osprey I have seen this season catches a column of air and soars in large ovals above the water. My delight increases as it draws its wings up, extends its feet down, and descends to the water feet first to fish, hovering on beating wings.   It pulls up out of the water having failed to catch its fish and resumes its soaring. The air column takes it downstream out of site and I move along. But moments later an osprey comes up from behind, catches a column of air and soars gracefully ahead of me. I tell myself it is likely the same bird, but then another soars into view, then two more join in an aerial ballet.Robin with wormSo far, spring has been cool and wet, but birds are easy to find at MB. Who is back? Red-wing blackbirds, Crows and Robins. Earlier this week I estimated 300 robins were hunting worms on the lawns. If the lawns look a bit torn up this is because they have thoroughly aerated the grass while removing the worms. Male Redwing Blackbirds claim territory in the hedge for nesting when the females return.   MB’s riverfront location makes it appealing to shorebirds- Killdeer, American Woodcocks, and Snipes are using their long bills to remove insects from the moist leaf litter on the ground. Duck are swimming by, often in pairs, looking for places they might nest. In addition to the usual Mallards, Ring Necked Ducks with purple heads and rings on their bills (not their necks), and Hooded Mergansers with crests like large white sails outlined in black swim by. Double crested cormorants fly through and will shortly perch in groups on the floating orange stanchions across the river. Gold finches flit through in groups. Song sparrows give daily concerts. From here through May it only gets better.

Jeanne Strahan

Note: Jeanne, who’s leading the wildlife inventory of the park, will be leading a FREE bird walk there May 6 (rain date: May 7), at 7:30am, with CRWA birder Matt Marshall. Meet at the BU Bridge, facing the park.

If you’re looking for the CCTV video of the 3.30 Cambridge Meeting about I-90, click here or go to Events. If you’re looking for the CCTV video of our 4.13 meeting a out I-90, click here.

Magazine Beach & I-90

27 Jan

A vision, from the communities’ and the river’s point of view, is underway. It’s led by the Charles River Alliance’s volunteer Allston Landing Design Team and includes a new, destination Riverside Park tying both sides of the river together.

Update: There will be a CNA-sponsored Cambridge Community Meeting about I-90 Thursday, March 30, 7-9pm, at the Central Square Library. Please come! Cambridge’s I-90 Task Force Representatives, Henrietta Davis and Bill Deignan, will present along with leaders from A Better City, the Charles River Conservancy, Walk Boston, Charles River Watershed Association, Charles River Alliance, The People’s Pike, and Livable Streets. Arrive early, at 6:30pm, and enjoy a cookie while mingling with presenters pre-program. Here’s the CCTV link to the program. Thank you, CCTV!

This meeting will prepare us for MassDOT’s presentation to Cambridge Thursday, April 13, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Morse School (40 Granite St.). Please attend!


By 2019, it’s thought that I-90’s viaduct, just across the river, will be under construction. It’s rusting and requires replacement. While replacing or removing this elevated highway will be a huge and noisy undertaking, it’s critical and a great opportunity for Cambridge and Allston, both. For Cambridge, the new highway could be quieter and allow for the creation of a view—a park!—across the river, and better access for cyclists and pedestrians. MassDOT presented their plans to Cambridge last Thursday. If you missed it, here’s the video and PP presentation. If you’re intrigued by the idea of a park across from Magazine Beach (as rendered above) and want to get involved, contact John Shields of the Charles River Alliance at

Former Cambridge City Councilor and Mayor Henrietta Davis just wrote this letter to MassDOT outlining Cambridge concerns about the I-90 Interchange Improvement Project. For more info still, click here. MassDOT will next present to Cambridge in April-date TBD. In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, email Nathaniel Cabral-Curtis at


As it is: The view of the I-90 viaduct from the Powder Magazine terrace.

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby…

6 Dec


It was 6 years ago that the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association (CNA) engaged at Magazine Beach. Then CNA President Bill August had noticed that trees were growing into the foundation of the old granite block building there and about 25 neighbors and Riverside rowers dug them up and picked up trash—our first Magazine Beach cleanup.

Now, thanks to DCR, Cambridge & YOU, we’ve got a newly restored Powder Magazine and, almost, a plan for the western part of the park. What we need now is money to implement it. Please donate as generously as you can TODAY. The Lawrence and Lillian Solomon Foundation has just offered to match up to $10,000 of private gifts, so your’s will double. And your tax-deductible contribution will inspire other essential, State, City, foundation and corporate gifts.

Imagine at the park: natural play features, a splash deck, new picnic tables and benches, a dock, lookouts, a grassy beach and an expanded canoe/kayak launch. All of this is within reach.

Make donations to the “Cambridgeport Neighborhood Asssociation, Inc.,” for “MB revitalization.” Mail checks to CNA Clerk Olivia Fiske at 131 Magazine St., Cambridge, MA 02139 OR donate on Paypal.

Thank you and happy holidays from the Magazine Beach Committee, CNA. For a recent article about the park, see: For a short film, to inspire you, click here.

Leaves Raked & Bulbs Planted

17 Nov


Many thanks to the 50-60 volunteers who turned out Saturday morning to rake leaves at the park and plant bulbs just west of it. Students from MIT and BU, accountants from KPMG, Riverside rowers and neighbors participated. We gathered over 150 bags of leaves and planted hundreds of bulbs. Thank you Sasha Vallieres and the Charles River Conservancy for leading the event!

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Stay tuned for additional leaf raking and phragmites removal opportunities at the park. On Monday, the Cambridge Conservation Commission gave DCR and the Charles River Watershed Association permission to remove invasive plants in the swales. Interested in helping out?  Click here.

Champagne Days

11 Nov


I love the sparkling light of fall and this particular day-windy and partly cloudy-is a study of contrasts. Cumulous clouds are dark above and white on the underside. The lawn is still green and banded with shadows cast by the trees. The tall grasses of the swale wave in the wind, upper parts shining silver with reflected light, while the stems retain the deep green of summer. The low growing plants of the hedge have died back offering a glimpse of tiny white caps cast by the wind on the river. Milkweed pods have split open revealing their gossamer down growing from small seeds. The split pods are striped with sandy shades deepening to grey, softening to blue, and going 3-D to green velvet.

It was a hard summer for the residents of Magazine Beach. The extreme drought drove newly hatched birds and their parents to moister places in search of insects a month or more before their expected fall migration. To my dismay, the three families of normally year-round resident Cedar Waxwings took off in July. My peak count of Red-wing Blackbirds was 30 males. Because the males are not monogamous (2-15 mates) this suggests that the numbers of more elusive females could be 60 or more and the total number including hatchlings could be nearly 200. Normally able to tolerate our weather well into the fall, they took off in July. Baltimore Orioles, Tree Swallows, Warbling Vireos and Eastern Kingbirds followed suit. Even the exceptionally hardy invasive species—House Sparrows and Starling—dwindled from maximum counts of 50 to just a few. Small numbers of warblers from places north began passing thru in August and continue to pass through. The big surprise is goldfinches. These tiny flitters were on display in small numbers all summer but migratory flocks have settled in, at least until the goldenrod supply gives out. I am counting 150 or so when I take the time to wait for the large flocks to show themselves. You can find them in the swale with the tall grasses opposite the middle section of the hedge. Have a look. –Jeanne Strahan

*Look for Jeanne’s fall bird inventory here in the next few weeks.

*Come rake leaves at the park and plant bulbs, too, tomorrow, Saturday, November 12, 9am-12noon.

*Many thanks to the CRLS students who recently did a cleanup of the park and to the Charles River Conservancy for sharing the joys of jumping into leaf piles with Morse preschoolers yesterday.

Trees & the Proposed Park Design

26 Oct

Trees are one of the greatest features of Magazine Beach. Along with the swimming pool, Charles River, and cool river breeze, they are why many people go to the park to gather, relax and picnic. (See the park in its glory with a few of its many mature trees above.)

CSS estimates that there are currently about 211 trees at the park. As part of the proposed park renovation 43 dead or declining trees will be removed and replaced with young trees 2:1. Below are photos of some of these. One has to wonder why they are having such a hard time. Is it the unseasonable back and forth hot then cold weather, the severe winds, the drought, the salt from the salt marshes of long ago, or the salt and carbon from Memorial Drive? Whatever it is, many trees close to the parkway are stressed and some have just, I understand, run their course. They are old trees.

Fourteen healthy trees also will be cut down as we move the parking lots closer to Memorial Drive to create more park. While we are sad to see these go, the park designers, DCR and the Magazine Beach Committee think that this will improve the overall experience at the park and the park, itself.

Park design, like many things, is about tradeoffs. Many people don’t even know that the park exists because parking lots block their views into the park. By moving the parking closer to Memorial Drive there will now be a dramatic view of the river, trees and parkland from the western edge of the park. By minimizing the size of the parking crescent, there will be more room for trees and picnicking.

To learn more about CSS’s plan for the park, click here. To see the tree inventory and plan of existing trees and the proposed plan, click here. The best way to understand what’s being proposed, is to take a walk at the park. Know that we are encouraging DCR to offer a second tree walk of the site as well. If this is scheduled, info about it will be posted here and on the CNA listserv.


IMPT Meetings re Magazine Beach-THIS WEEK

17 Oct


Please join us Thursday, October 20 at 6:30pm at the Morse School Auditorium for DCR and CSS’s presentation about the design for Magazine Beach Park. (Draft design pictured above.) It’s critical that we have a good crowd there to demonstrate support for the project and to make last refinements. The goal is to have shovel-ready plans by the end of 2016. Then, all we need to do is find the $4 million to fund it.

The plan will:

*Create greater engagement with the river by widening the boat launch and adding two overlooks and a dock.

*Remove the broken wading pool to enhance the old grove of trees and picnic area.

*Include natural play features and a spray deck.

*Create a grassy lawn (where there now is pavement) between the swimming pool and the river.

*Rejuvenate the tree canopy by removing declining trees and planting new ones.

*Move parking closer to Memorial Drive, creating more park while retaining the number of parking places.

*Define park entrances and, with new pathway system, draw visitors into the park and along the river.

*Expand and open the Powder Magazine terrace so that the structure can better serve as a venue for events and sunset watching. (Note: The PM will have 2 public bathrooms.)

*Include resiliency features, including rain gardens and wetlands.

*Include a 10’-wide multi-use path along Memorial Drive for safer and more enjoyable walking, jogging, and cycling experiences.

The presentation WILL BE posted here following the meeting. DCR welcomes written comments at, sent by Monday, Nov. 7.

Also, there will be a Cambridge Conservation Commission Site Walk of the Park Wednesday, October 19 at 4pmMeet at the Riverside Boat Club parking lot. If you’re concerned about tree loss, you should take this walk. You will learn, among other things, which trees are slated to be cut and why. Most of those trees are declining: they are partly dead and have been dropping major branches. Others slated for cutting are closer to Memorial Drive where we hope to move the parking lots, to create more park and a clearer western park entrance. Many trees will be planted to replenish the tree canopy.

Park design is all about trade offs. While no one wants to see trees cut–including us– we, the Magazine Beach Comm. of the CNA, believe that CSS’s proposed plan is a great improvement over what we currently have and that it will provide great overall benefit to Cambridge and beyond.

Come see for yourself: Wednesday (site walk) and Thursday (meeting)!


MB Makeover by Ernest & Young

3 Oct


60 accountants and business consultants focused their attention on Magazine Beach Friday and what a different they made: painting over graffiti (hurray!), repainting benches and picnic tables, raking leaves, picking up sticks, pulling out bittersweet, planting mums and mulching the bathhouse garden, and picking up trash.

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Thank you E&Y and thanks to Sasha Vallieres of the Charles River Conservancy for coordinating the event.

DCR Introduces Landscape Plan to the Cambridge Conservation Commission Monday Night

22 Sep


On Monday, Sept. 26, DCR and landscape architects Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge will introduce the Magazine Beach Park Project to the Cambridge Conservation Commission. Above is the latest design for the park.

The primary goals of this revitalization effort are to restore and improve connectivity and access to the Charles River while providing improvements to the site around the renovated Powder Magazine, which is the Park’s focal point.  Park enhancements include improvements to the existing kayak launch area, the installation of two overlook platforms and a dock, river vista pruning, vegetation management, and wetland restoration/replication. Additional improvements include enlarging an existing stone patio and retaining wall at the Powder Magazine, installing a splash pad near the swimming pool, improving existing footpaths, adding new footpaths, and removing a paved parking area from the riverfront area.

DCR will also submit a Vegetation Management Plan (“VMP”), which addresses the trimming and pruning of vegetation along the riverfront. Its goal is to control invasive species, to establish a healthy riparian edge; and to maintain vistas along the river’s edge. It will achieve this with invasive and non-native species control, vista pruning, and tree removals/plantings.

The project proposes the following shoreline treatments:

Along Shore near Swimming Pool: Remove invasives and replace with native wetland perennials and grasses. Regrading of the shore will increase shore planting area.

Along Shore near Powder Magazine: Remove invasives and replace with native wetland perennials and grasses, native shrubs and naturally spaced boulders.

Between the Weeping Willow and the Boat Launch: Remove invasives throughout, prune shrub Willows along the edge of the path and at select “hedged” areas that open views to the river.

The CCC meeting is Monday, Sept. 26 at 7pm at the City Hall Annex at 344 Broadway–4th floor conference room.

UPDATE: CCC will do a site walk of the park Oct. 19 at 4pm. Meet at the Riverside Boat Club parking lot. The next hearing will be Monday, Oct. 24 @ 7pm at 344 Broadway–4th floor. DCR & CSS  will also present park plans to the public Oct. 20, 6:30-8pm at the Morse School (40 Granite St.)

More $ for Magazine Beach!

20 Sep

Huzzah! Last night the City Council approved CPA Committee recommendations to invest another $100,000 into interior renovations of the 1818 Powder Magazine/1899 Bathhouse and $16,600 for interpretative signage at Magazine Beach Park. DCR has just stabilized the exterior of the magazine. The installation of bathrooms and lighting to the inside will enable DCR to find a stronger, more community-oriented tenant for the structure, which is the focal point for the park. We’ll be applying for matching funds from DCR for both of these projects.

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And, on Saturday night, we raised another $9,000 for the park at our 3rd Annual Benefit at the Riverside Boat Club. Fabulous party. Great energy, food, drink & music. Perfect weather. A strong sense of community. A celebration of partnerships and our progress to date working together. A chance to mingle with State and local politicians, DCR project staff and park designers about our hopes and dreams for the park. And what a magical venue!

Thanks to the many who came and the many who made it happen! We’re well aware  that we have a lot more money to raise for park renovations, but donations from over 100 private citizens is a good start. If you haven’t given yet, please do!

Magazine Beach Committee:  Marge Amster, Ken Carson, Brian Conway, Olivia Fiske, Richard Garver, Decia Goodwin, Peter Klinefelter, David Torrey & Cathie Zusy

CNA Board: Colleen Clark, Oliva Fiske, Leslie Greis, Catherine Hoffman, Elechi Kadete, Jay Shetterly, Carolyn Shipley & Cathie Zusy

MC & Speakers: Brian O’Donovan, Rep. Jay Livingstone, Sen. Joe Bocore, DCR’s Nicholas Connors, Cambridge’s Iram Farooq & Michelle Greene

Volunteers: Preston Fiske, Callum Griffith, Deirdre Keane, Sam Kendall, Carissa Lavery, Tarik Mubassir, Sophie Pelletier, Michael Schaffer, Jeanne Sprain, Chris Ward & Silas Weiner

Food & door prize donors: Harpoon Brewery, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Massage Envy, Micro Center, Starbucks, Nomad and Petsi Pies

Summer program sponsors: Sanofi Foundation of North America, MIT & the Charles River Conservancy

Photographs by Michael Schaffer.