adventures

Exploring the Esplanade

By Tom Richardson
ENE Host Tom Richardson and Becky Smith of REI Co-op bike along the Charles River Esplanade.

On June 4, we spent the day getting to know the Charles River Esplanade Park in Boston more intimately while filming an upcoming episode of ENE TV. We started at the famous Hatch Memorial Shell (the site of many public concerts and other events) with Becky Smith, REI’s Northeast Regional Director and Member of the East Coast Greenway Alliance Board of Trustees. Becky had brought along one of REI Co-op’s brand-new electric bikes for me to test. The new “e-bike” features a powerful, rechargeable battery that assists the rider in pedaling, thereby opening the world of cycling to a broader range of people. I found it to be well-built, rugged, and most of all, fun to ride. (A full review of the bike will be forthcoming on this site.)

The new REI Co-op ebike proved both functional and fun to ride.

After familiarizing myself with the e-bike, I headed off with Becky along the Esplanade, which bustled with joggers, walkers, tourists, and fellow cyclists. In the lagoons, giant carp wallowed about in their annual spawning ritual, while mallards and their newly hatched ducklings paddled nervously nearby.

The REI ebike features a powerful battery that powers the pedal-assist motor inside the rear hub.

The Esplanade Park serves as a section of the East Coast Greenway—a system of interconnecting bike trails that run from the Canadian Border through Florida. It’s an intricate network that takes plenty of work to coordinate, which we learned from Kristine Keeney, the East Coast Greenway Alliance’s New England Regional Coordinator. Kristine, a passionate cyclist and skier, provided a behind-the-scenes look at what makes the Greenway such a unique public resource.

Host Tom Richardson cycles past a mural on one of the busy highway ramps along the Esplanade.

The Esplanade itself is truly an urban gem, and—as a property owner who mulches and weeds—I could well appreciate the hard work that goes into maintaining the well-manicured trails and gardens. Adding to the park’s appeal are playgrounds, a beer garden, the Hatch Shell, a ballfield, the Community Boating Center, and an outdoor fitness station—all sandwiched between noisy Storrow Drive and the placid Charles River.

Esplanade Association Executive Director Michael Nichols (right) shares a laugh with Tom Richardson in one of the park's oldest sections.

Working to maintain the park are the staff and volunteers of the Esplanade Association, headed by Executive Director Michael Nichols. We interviewed Michael in one of the park’s remaining original sections near the old Charles River Locks, where he gave us an overview of the park’s history, its maintenance challenges and some exciting forthcoming projects.

Tom interviews CRWA Executive Director Emily Norton.

Wrapping up our busy day was an interview with Emily Norton, Executive Director of the Charles River Watershed Association. As Emily explained, the Charles has undergone incredible transformation after years of abuse, and is now cleaner that it has been in over 150 years. Still, more work needs to be done, and the CRWA is on the front lines of ensuring public access and protecting the 40-mile-long waterway that affects so many cities and towns.

You can learn more about the Charles River, the Esplanade and the East Coast Greenway bike trail when “Three Cheers for the Charles” airs later this summer on NESN!