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The Charles River, to the Right

Hailing Distance: One of a series of great half-hour hikes from campus


Photos by Robin Berghaus

The Charles River Reservation offers a wonderful scenic walk, easily reached from the University’s center. Runners, bikers, walkers, and picnickers coexist within this linear park, a remarkably handy retreat from the hustle of urban living.

Starting at the corner of Comm Ave and Silber Way, walk past the Bay State Road brownstones to Back Street. A footbridge zigzags over Storrow Drive, leading onto a path along the Charles River Basin, which stretches nine miles from Watertown to Boston Harbor.

hatchshellA right on the path takes you towards the Massachusetts Avenue bridge, where you can cross the river into MIT territory. Walking further along the Charles brings you to the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, a performance center with 90,000 square feet of lawn that hosts free events from May through October. Among the attractions are Earth Fest and Free Friday Flicks. The most famous of these events is the annual Boston Pops July 4 Concert, inaugurated in 1929 by Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Arthur Fiedler (Hon.’51), who believed great symphonic music should be available to everyone. It soon became a beloved tradition. The 400,000 people at the 1976 concert constituted the largest single audience for a classical music concert, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

When events are not scheduled, the Hatch Shell lawn attracts Frisbee and soccer enthusiasts. The nearby Café Esplanade supplies quick snacks and refreshments.

A grove of birch trees and a boulder inscribed Otis Grove can be found near the Hatch Shell lawn by Exeter Street. “While I was a freshman at Berklee College of Music, I lived near the Esplanade and passed by the boulder on my way to the river,” says Otis Grove band member Sam Gilman. “My band mates and I assumed it was a tribute to Harrison Gray Otis, mayor of Boston from 1829 to 1831. When we became serious about our band, we researched and found that it’s a memorial for State Representative William F. Otis and his wife, who were murdered in their Back Bay apartment in 1968.” Gilman and his two band mates kept the name anyway, believing that a giant rock on the Esplanade was “as good free publicity as we could get.”

kayak_charlesOn the river, small watercraft from Community Boating and Gondola di Venezia sail and glide against a backdrop of city skyline, framed by landmarks such as the cable-stayed Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge. Benches and grassy nooks attract picnickers, and geese and ducks meander among the trees, bamboo, and flowers. Stake out a spot on one of the small docks along the shoreline for excellent sunbathing or lounging. On summer evenings, it’s not uncommon to find people cooking barbeque atop the floating wooden platforms.

For children, there are two playgrounds made from recycled materials; one caters to the under-5 crowd, the other to children 5 to 12. Play structures are constructed of the equivalent of 26,376 plastic containers, 52,084 aluminum cans, and 31,608 soup cans.

esplanade1Walking along the Charles is relaxing, but there are a few things to look out for, like goose droppings, construction, and traffic. Fortunately, there’s enough terrain to avoid them all. The Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path offers an alternative, higher-speed trail for cyclists, and it travels parallel to the Esplanade between the Mass Ave bridge and the Hatch Shell. The entire trail follows an 18-mile loop from the Charles River Dam Bridge at one end to Watertown Square at the other.

When you’re ready to return to campus, take any of the footbridges that connect back to Beacon Street, such as the Arthur Fielder Footbridge near the Hatch Shell lawn or the pedestrian crossing near Fairfield St.

Take more walks from campus here

Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu; Nicole Shelby can be reached at nicoleshelby@gmail.com.

This article was originally published on September 3, 2009.


One Comment on The Charles River, to the Right

  • Frances Whistler on 09.03.2009 at 1:22 pm

    Top photograph, of the Charles

    I can’t see a photographer’s name on the photos for this article, but just want to congratulate whoever took the top one for a perfectly proportioned and balanced image. It would make a great postcard or greetings card (maybe BU should have some of those …).

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