Spicket River–Lawrence, MA

The Spicket River originates in Salem, NH and flows into Stevens Pond located in Lawrence, MA.  From Stevens Pond, the river flows southeast into the Merrimack River located approximately 2.5 miles downstream (EPA 2011, 2).  A map of the Spicket River is provided below as Figure 1.  The Spicket River is located approximately 25 miles north of the Malden River.

Historically, this section of the river has been home to many textile mills and other industries.  Over the years, these industries utilized the river as a dumping ground for numerous contaminants, including heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, thousands of tires, and literally tons of debris and trash (EPA 2011, 1).  The textile mills subsequently closed in the 1970s leaving vacant properties, contaminated land adjacent to the river and the Spicket River itself heavily-impacted.  Immigrants that originally moved to the area to work in the mills during the early 1900s were left unemployed after the mills closed.  Subsequently the area surrounding the river declined into one of the poorest areas in the state (EPA 2011, 3).  Currently, the median household income in Lawrence is $27,983, as compared to the state average of $50,502 (Cryan 2009, 13).Spicket

The Spicket River shares numerous physical traits with the Malden River, as well as similar population demographics, which makes it an important case study.  The Spicket River and the Malden River are approximately 2.5 and 1.75 miles long, respectively.  They flow through urban areas with connections to an industrial past that have resulted in contaminated lands and waters.  In both cases, the rivers were historically utilized as a means to transport waste out of the city.

The cities of Malden and Lawrence are of similar size with populations of 60,017 and 76,976, respectively.  Both rivers are surrounded by diverse and underserved communities.  According to the U.S. Census, between 2007 and 2011, approximately 14.1% of Malden residents and 28.6% of Lawrence residents lived below the poverty line.  The state average was 10.7% (Census 2011).

In addition, both communities had an above-average number of homes in which the primary language spoken at home is a language other than English.  In Malden, approximately 48.7% of the population spoke a language other than English at home.  In Lawrence, the number was 74.6%.  The state average was 21.4% (Census 2011).

Malden and Lawrence share similar characteristics in terms of foreign-born persons living in their communities.  In Malden, approximately 39.5% of residents are foreign born.  Approximately 36.1% of residents are foreign born in Lawrence.  The state average is 14.7% (Census 2011).

One of the most notable differences between Malden and Lawrence is in education.  Approximately 83.7% of the population in Malden has a high school diploma or higher.  This is close to the state average of 88.9%.  Lawrence has a significantly lower education rate, in which only 64.7% of the population has a high school degree or higher (Census 2011).

The cleanup and restoration of the Spicket River began as the Spicket River Revitalization Project.  The cornerstone of this project is the Spicket River Greenway.  The goal of the Greenway is to connect revitalized brownfield properties, parks, schools, open space and communities to each other.  The connection of these green spaces is described by Groundwork Lawrence as the “emerald bracelet”.  The Greenway comprises of an approximately three-mile long path along the Spicket River and includes ten acres of new open space and public access (Cryan 2009, 16).

The idea for the Greenway was initially proposed by community members in 1998, and in 2001 the project was mapped.  To date, several contaminated areas have been remediated along the Spicket River, including two brownfield properties.  These include the Brook Street site, a 2.7-acre property now known as the Dr. Nina Scarito Park, and the Manchester Street Park (see inset photograph below).  A third Brownfields property, the Oxford Paper site, is under construction at the time of this writing and is scheduled to open in 2013.  Other parks along the Greenway include Misserville Skate Park and the William Kennedy Community Park, which was constructed at a former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) site where homes were frequently flooded and subsequently torn down in 2001 (EPA 2011, 4).  It is expected that the Greenway project will be soon be completed.


“As the first jewel to be developed along the Greenway [referring to the Dr. Nina Scarito Park], and the city’s first brownfield-to-park conversion, the precedents set with the project helped establish a significant level of comfort with the process (from assessment and planning to cleanup, design and construction) for all stakeholders involved.  In addition to the park itself, this project also built three important things in Lawrence:  momentum for development of the Spicket River Greenway, tremendous capacity at Groundwork [Lawrence] and within City Hall – as the municipality had never before taken ownership of a formerly contaminated parcel, much less written grants or devoted resources in support of such an endeavor, and finally, the expectation among local residents that they could and should be involved in the land use planning decisions affecting their community”.

-Groundwork USA Brownfield Case Studies

The Brook Street property is of significant importance since it was the first site to be remediated along the Spicket River Greenway.  The site was once a mill and then commercial laundry facility.  It had been an abandoned property for approximately 20 years prior to its revitalization.  Contaminants found at the site included cadmium, arsenic and petroleum hydrocarbons.  These contaminants are also found along the banks and in the sediment of the Malden River.  The contaminants in the Spicket River were subsequently removed from the river by excavating impacted soil and sediment and transporting the material off-site for disposal (GWL 2013).

The Manchester Street Park was constructed at the former Covanta incinerator site.  Prior to the park construction, the 5-acre brownfields property was remediated of mercury, lead and other contaminants.  The cleanup was completed in 2008, and in 2009 the park opened (EPA 2011, 4).  The park was subsequently awarded the 2010 Brownfield Renewal Award for Social Impact.

The Executive Director for GWL, Heather McMann said of the park and award:  “Nearly a decade of work— community activism, fundraising, planning, cleanup and building—went into the realization of Manchester Street Park. The reward for that work is a neighborhood reborn—the vision of a community now sustained by and sustaining this beautiful, healthy, thriving place.” (EPA 2011, 4).

To date, the Spicket River Greenway has included almost 100 partnerships and over $6 million in funding from private and public sources.  The primary community organization spearheading the effort is Groundwork Lawrence (GWL).  GWL is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that began in 2001 and is a member of Groundwork USA (GWL 2013).  The latter is a national organization that exists to support the local trusts, such as GWL.  The mission of GWL is to encourage “community-based partnerships” that result in improving environmental conditions.  GWL emphasizes the close connection between environmental health, economic and social conditions.  Through their leadership and project implementation, GWL seeks to improve local communities by “changing places and changing lives” (GWL 2013).

Another significant organization involved in the revitalization of the Spicket River is Lawrence Community Works (LCW).  LCW is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the development and improvement of the “physical, economic, and social landscape of Lawrence” (LCW 2013).

The Urban Ecology Institute (UEI) provides guidance and education to students and community groups who live in urban settings, including the City of Lawrence, MA.  The mission of UEI is to teach communities about the importance of their environment (Cryan 2009, 17).  The organization also seeks to improve community capacity for the development of sustainable environments (UEI 2013).

The Arlington Community Trabajando (ACT), a local organization formed by community members, focuses their efforts on open space and in particular the Spicket River.  The Arlington neighborhood of Lawrence encompasses the area surrounding the Spicket River.  ACT formed in the fall of 1996 after the Malden Mills fire and the Spicket River floods.  Both disasters threatened the livelihood of the community by the loss of a significant number of jobs at the Malden Mills and the damage caused by the floods (Cryan 2009, 15 and 17).

The revitalization of the Spicket River showcases the possibilities that can be accomplished through community-led organizations.  As shown here, numerous organizations have been involved over the years.  The revitalization of the Malden River will also only be accomplished with community engagement, persistence and the connection of like-minded organizations that can share resources.  A list of potential partnering organizations of the Friends of the Malden River is provided in the appendices as a network map.


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