The Charles River is fed by about 80 brooks and streams, and
several major aquifers as it flows snakelike for 80 miles,
starting at Echo Lake in Hopkinton, through 58 cities and towns
in eastern Massachusetts before emptying into Boston Harbor.
Its watershed contains 33 lakes and ponds. Despite the river's
length and relatively large drainage area (308 square miles),
its source is only 26 miles from its mouth, and the
river drops only 350 feet from source to sea. It is
the most densely populated river basin in New England.
Native Americans used the river for local transportation and
fishing, and as a link in the route from southeastern Massachusetts
to northern New England. Early European settlers harnessed
the river for water power.
Over time, a total of 20 dams were built along the Charles
River, mostly to generate power for industry. The dams slowed
the flow of the Charles River, hampering the river's ability
to cleanse itself with uninterrupted flow. They also flooded
pastureland and cut off migratory fish from upstream reaches.
In some places, the dams created new stretches of shoreline,
and expanded water and land habitat. The best example is the
Lakes District. This scenic area
drew thousands of boaters around the turn of the 20th century and became the
premier social and recreational spot of its time.
Later industrial use left the river
heavily polluted. Formerly abundant fish populations went into
severe decline, and adjacent river habitats were compromised.
Over the past four decades, environmental initiatives have
significantly improved the water quality and ecology of the
Charles. Fish have returned to the river and native plants
placed along the banks together with restored wetlands have
resulted in a return of local birds, small mammals, amphibians
and reptiles. 74% of the
Charles River is now suitable for swimming in dry weather.
Fish have now returned to the river. more…
Restored wetlands have aided the return of local birds. more...