State Gives Birthday Gift To Charles River Group

The State has awarded a $14,000 grant to a Charles River environmental conservation group to help protect marshland along the waterway from private development.

Gov. Michael S. Dukakis announced the award to the Charles River Watershed Association Saturday at the group's twentieth anniversary dinner at the Embassy Suite Hotel in Allston.

The money will enable the non-profit preservation group to "identify the central areas along the mid-to upper-Charles River that are most threatened by development," said Paula V. Cortez, former president of the association.

In the past, property owners have built condominiums blocking views of the river and have paved the riverbanks with asphalt for parking lots.

The conservation group will use part of the funding to encourage owners to restrict real estate development along the riverbanks according to state guidelines written in 1971 and adopted by the Watershed Association eleven years ago, Executive Director Rita Barron said yesterday.

Alternatives to development for property owners along the riverbanks include self-imposed building restrictions called "easements" which generate tax deductions, Barron said. "There is a lot room for creative flexibility for owners under the easement program," said Barron.

The Charles River Watershed Association is a non-profit group "of citizens who care about the river and who make it their business to be concerned about land use and recreation," said Lydia Goodhue, long-time member of the Watershed Association.

"It's a constant watchdog of the Charles, and a central purpose is to increase public awareness that the river is dirty and it should be cleaned up," said Goodhue.

Max Hall, a local author who has documented the history of the Charles, said yesterday that most of the pollution stemmed from heavy industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The organization works in conjunction with the Massachusetts District Commission (MDC), advising the state agency on programs for cleaning up the riverbanks and the future of public and privately owned land parcels along the river.

Because the Charles River Watershed Association does not buy land, but "works with public and private groups to suggest ways for proper development to take place," said Cortez, the grant money will be used in a joint venture with the Trustees of the Reservation, a state organization that buys land or holds it outright.

All of the river above the Watertown Dam is classified as Class B water, meaning it is considered safe for swimming.

The group is currently trying to open up the river for recreational purposes, said Cortez. In addition to reopening public beaches which used to be swimmable, the Watershed group also promotes boating and fishing on the river.

"Some of the best bass fishing in the state happens along the Charles," Cortez said.