History in a planning context
The working group is carrying forward the vision of The Metropolitan Park Commission’s report written in 1892 by the landscape architect Charles Eliot. He envisioned a park system along the banks of the Charles, Neponset and Mystic Rivers, the Blue Hills, the Middlesex Fells, and Lynn, Nahant, Winthrop, Quincy, and Nantasket beaches. The natural river patterns provided a system of interconnected open spaces, accessible to even the most densely populated areas. During the decade after the publication of the report in 1893, eighty percent of the current metropolitan park system was set-aside as permanent public open space. The report described the Newton section of the Charles River - “Within ten miles of Boston, there is a stretch of river scenery that cannot be surpassed in the United States.”
The development of rail lines created recreational opportunities along the Charles River Lake District in Auburndale. From 1897 to 1942 Norumbega Park provided recreational activates from boat rentals to theater, music and dining opportunities to thousands. In the 1900s this section of the Charles was the most heavily canoed waterway the world. The development of highways, regional infrastructure, and housing has since encroached upon the continuity of this experience, but the river rolls on. Beginning in the 1990s the DCR created a multi-use recreational Charles River Reservation/Blue Heron trail extending from Boston to the Norumbega Park Conservation Area in Newton. The towns of Weston and Wellesley have an extensive trail systems. Access to the banks of the Charles River and the connecting links to these resources through Newton Lower Falls and Auburndale await development.
The concept of a bike/footpath through Newton Lower Falls was part of the 1969 comprehensive Recreation/Open Space Plan by the Newton Planning Department which authorized the publication in 1975 of the Newton Conservation Commission Charles River Pathway. The following objectives of this pathway were listed
- To have a continuous footpath along the Charles River.
- To conserve the banks of the Charles in as natural a setting as possible.
- To add to outdoor recreational and educational opportunities available to the City.
In 2009 the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Charles River Reservation Footbridge Projects/Trail Corridor Proposal linked construction of the pathway through Lower Falls to the restoration of three footbridges crossing the Charles River. This proposal restored important links between the Charles River Bike Path and the Blue Heron Trail in Newton, reopening access to this spectacularly beautiful part of the Charles. By 2015 using available funds from the state’s Accelerated Bridge Program, two of the three bridges – the “Pony Truss at Riverside Park in Weston and the “Trestle” bridge between Newton Lower Falls and Wellesley Hills – were completed. The third Recreation Road “Stringer” bridge crossing from the MWRA pump station in Weston to Charles St. at the Lasell College boathouse in Newton, has been delayed.
The Mass DCR’s renewed interest in the Lower Falls pathway in 2009 met opposition by abutters of the rail trail who filed a lawsuit against the DCR. They claimed property rights in the rail right of way abutting their backyards. (In 2016 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Courts ruled on the appeal from the Massachusetts Land Court by the plaintiffs who had brought suit against the DCR; the ruling found that the decommissioning of a trail line is a federal issue and is now in the federal courts). In response, the Newton Lower Falls Improvement Association (LFIA) created a working group to look at alternatives to the rail trail. The group defined alternative segments that could be linked to get from the Wellesley Bridge to the LaSalle boathouse along the Charles River. Locating fully accessible trails along the steep banks of the river was shown to be unfeasible.
In 2010 the proposed development at Riverside MBTA station by Normandy Real Estate Partners was made public. The traffic issues and roadway designs associate with this project created a new incentive to look at alternative pedestrian pathways between Lower Falls and Riverside Station. The proposed development of the Riverside MBTA site by the Normandy included a path around the maintenance area to the office park and residential areas to a scenic overlook at this site the path enters Riverside. Through the active lobbying of the larger Newton community and city counselors, the special permit granted in 2013 to the developer created mitigation funds for projects such as trails. No activity has occurred since the special permit was granted. In late 2016 a new developer Robert Korff of Mark Development partnered with Normandy to develop Riverside; but plans for the site and surrounding roads have yet to be revealed.