What's Happening Now

Update on Muddy River Phragmites: Part 1

By Matt Eddy, MMOC Administrator

Many neighbors and visitors have noticed that invasive Phragmites is reappearing in a number of areas where it had recently been removed, most notably along Agassiz Road. Smaller patches have been observed along the west bank adjacent to the Victory Gardens, in Justine Mee Liff Park, and in Riverway Park. In some places, new stems of this common invasive have grown tall enough to block the view of the newly restored river entirely. 

The community has questions:

* Was this regrowth expected?

* What is being done to treat and eradicate the new Phragmites reeds?

* Who is doing this work?

* Will we ever see the end of Phragmites along the riverbanks?

In consultation with Boston Parks and Recreation Department and others as well as visits to the field, the MMOC can confirm:

  • Phragmites within the fenced-in work areas were treated with herbicide by the Army Corps of Engineers and its contractors in mid-September, 2023 and will be cut and removed in the coming weeks. Twice-yearly treatment will continue until the end of the federal “guarantee period” (which varies by site).
  • For areas no longer under federal guarantee, Boston Parks and Recreation Department is working with a consultant to develop a plan for managing wetlands invasives throughout the length of the Muddy River Restoration Project.  The agreed-upon goal is not eradication so much as effective management – protecting the public investment in the work that’s already completed.

The MMOC continues to collaborate with local and state agencies to ensure that long-term maintenance plans are in place, and to communicate promptly with the public when new information is available. 

Much progress, continuing challenge

Phragmites management in the Fens has had a long history, well summarized by Aja Watkins, from the office of State Senator Will Brownsberger. Over the past several decades, regulatory regard for the ecological and economic importance of wetland areas has typically superseded concerns about public safety, aesthetics, and flood risk management. But according to Boston Parks Department’s Contract Compliance Manager Tom Timmons, while previous efforts to remove Phragmites en masse from this area were limited by state and local environmental regulation, those permitting hurdles have largely been overcome.  Most of the Fens area covered by reeds was cleared this past spring, with thanks due in large part to a $3 million capital expenditure provided by the city. The Army Corps’ Charter Contracting Company, its excavators already on site for Restoration Project dredging, were flexible enough to undertake this removal effort. The areas around Mother’s Rest Playground and the Boston Fire Alarm Headquarters have been transformed as a result. 

Aerial photos of Back Bay Fens from April 2022 and June 2023. Note the dramatic decrease in Phragmites on both sides of the River and the widening of the watercourse. Photos: Google Earth

Even with this progress, the summer and fall of 2023 has seen the re-emergence of Phragmites. When considering this, it’s important to distinguish between Project areas still under warranty by the federal government and areas where management responsibility has already been returned to the owner (City of Boston, Town of Brookline, or DCR). Areas that are still under warranty by the Army Corps (these can generally be identified by the presence of 8-ft chain link construction fences) are required to be Phragmites-free before those areas can be passed back to local control. Until then, responsibility for Phragmites removal in those areas falls to Charter Contracting Company.

Prior to initiating Phase 2 of the Muddy River Restoration Project, Charter prepared an Invasive Species Control Plan; it was updated in April 2020 and approved by the Army Corps. The plan details the exact methods and sequence of steps Charter would undertake to combat re-emergent Phragmites. This includes treating the plants with an approved herbicide twice each growing season, followed by removal and eventual incineration of the stems.  

Tom Timmons, Contract Compliance Officer for BPRD, has confirmed that Charter completed its first treatment of 2023 on schedule in June, and its second on September 15.  Phragmites stems will be left in place for a few weeks to allow the herbicide to have its desired effect, after which they will be removed and incinerated. 

By late October, the public can expect to see fully restored views of the River. 


Charter’s plans appear to have shown some success so far. In areas treated with two rounds of herbicide in 2022, such as the stretch just upstream of the Agassiz Road bridge, regrowth appears to be minimal.

The MMOC will continue to confer with all parties and monitor conditions in the field to verify progress. 

A pond in a park

Description automatically generatedA pond with trees and a fence

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In August, 2022, the Restoration area upstream of Agassiz Road shows significant Phragmites regrowth. By August 2023, the results of two herbicide treatments are evident. Photos: Matt Eddy

Top photo (Stan Everett):

Phragmites growth at Agassiz Road. The reeds had been removed in winter 2022-23 but have now grown tall enough to block the view of the river.