Malden River clean-up raises awareness of local environmental issues

Students from Malden Catholic, interns from UMA (Urban Media Arts) and Karen Buck from Friends of the Malden River. Photo by Keren He.

By Kamila Rodrigues

As global citizens push back against climate change and North America experiences its hottest June ever [requires NYT login], members of the Malden community are finding ways to clean up and care for the Malden River. During the school vacation week in April, Urban Media Arts (UMA) partnered with Friends of the Malden River, a citizens group committed to drawing the Malden River back to vibrant, civic life, and Malden Catholic High School students for a river clean-up at River’s Edge in Medford. 

Pictured: Sharieff Andrews, Karen Buck, and Masio. Photo by Keren He.

This hybrid (in-person and virtual) program, which will continue in a similar way for one later the summer, was run by UMA’s Amanda Hurley and Masio in collaboration with Karen Buck of the Friends of the Malden River, who is also a Malden River Works representative. The participants included Malden Catholic 3rd year students Sharieff Andrews, Amy Nguyen, and Frederika Noel.

The students met with Masio and Amanda on April 20 for an orientation. They discussed the virtual component of the student media program, which would include virtually editing a public service announcement together. They also discussed the in-person component that included a tour, clean-up, and video shoot at River’s Edge.

On April 21, the UMA, Malden Catholic, and Friends of Malden River team headed to River’s Edge, a 30-acre mixed-use project. In an interview with Neighborhood View, Karen Buck spoke on the purpose of the Friends of Malden River clean-ups. 

Pictured: Sharieff Andrews, Amy Nguyen Frederika Noel, and Matt Preotle. Photo by Keren He.

“We have been working hard to bring the public to the Malden River. We want to create strong land and river stewards within all of our communities. Our residents’ perception of the value of our open green and blue space needs to be nurtured with knowledge of our precious natural resources. The Malden River is healing after a legacy of abuse; now is the time to show our appreciation and concern,” said Buck. 

With their boots and gloves on, Noel, Nguyen, Andrews, and Buck headed down to the Malden River with trash bags. The cleanup lasted about two hours; the students spent time picking trash, collecting plastics and other items that were discarded along the river bank or had washed up along the boat dock. UMA interns and staff assisted with the clean-up and were able to help shoot videos and take pictures of the process for their project. UMA interns Avion Manong and Keren He assisted in photography and videography.

Photo by Keren He.

Buck, who is also the Environmental Advocate for Malden River Works, detailed some of the goals for the Malden River, saying the project will “set a precedent for inclusive, resilient open space development along industrialized, urban waterways.”

Malden River Works is a coalition of community leaders of color, environmental advocates, and government stakeholders working towards “a climate-resilient waterfront park for all on the Malden River.” 

Buck also spoke of the potential impact of the project, saying, “Malden River Works project will serve as a model for incorporating flood resilient public access infrastructure while upgrading and protecting industrial operations. Within Malden, the project is the first step in realizing an interconnected greenway surrounding the Malden River, providing public access to the city’s most treasured natural resource, while protecting properties from climate-related flood risks.”

Buck guided the students through the clean-up, answering questions and helping pick up trash along the river bank. Growing up, Buck spent a lot of time outdoors and eventually became an extensive traveler. Seeing the world from multiple perspectives inspired her to get involved in protecting her local environment. “The Earth’s remote beauty is stunning; but the global pollution is distressing. The earth is resilient to a certain degree. But the earth is at a critical tipping point. If our global society doesn’t change as a whole, humanity will suffer,” said Buck.

After the cleanup, the student headed to a grassy area right above the river bank where they filmed key footage for their PSA. They spent another hour filming scenes by the river, coming up with dialogue on the spot and testing it out on camera. This portion of the program allowed them to develop their improvisational acting, producing and directing skills.

Photo by Keren He.

The following day, the students met virtually for the last portion of the program, where they spent several hours editing their video together. What came together was a 4-minute PSA about the environment and the importance of caring for it. The students used the Malden River as the setting for how members of the Malden community can get involved and take charge in the wellbeing of their environment.

Shot by Frederika Noel, Sharieff Andrews, Amy Nguyen and the UMA team. Edited by Frederika Noel, Sharieff Andrews, and Amy Nguyen.

You can also watch the interview by Andrews, Nguyen, and Noel of Matt Preotle, one of the developers for Preotle Lane and Associates, about the restoration and the development of the area around the Malden River.

Shot by Frederika Noel, Sharieff Andrews, Amy Nguyen and the UMA team. Edited by UMA intern Allie Thompson.

On May 15, the same MC students, joined by some of Malden High’s Science National Honor Society joined Karen Buck for an Earth Day celebration at Rivergreen Park in Everett, which connects to the Malden River. The program included canoe and kayak launch ribbon-cutting with canoes available to the public for this celebration. The event also included pontoon boat rides, river clean-ups, and workshops on wetland ecology, local species, fungi, and how to tread lightly in our wetlands.

Photo by Keren He.

Karen Buck detailed ways other members of the Malden community can get involved, saying “the community’s support for our Malden River begins in the home.”

Here are Buck’s tips:

• Create a clean environment right outside your door: clean sidewalks and street storm drains (which drain directly to the river and carry trash with the storm water) is essential for a clean river. Sometimes, we do have to clean up after other people or windblown trash. 

• Wash your car at car washes and not in the driveway. Car wash soaps carry chemicals into the Malden River through the street storm drains. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are very harmful – use organic fertilizers like Holly Tone.

• Join community clean-ups – they really make a difference. I am noting less trash on the shores of Malden River thanks to community clean-ups and the trash boom that traps the trash from the street storm drains and stops the trash from flowing down river into the Boston Harbor. 

• Push for state legislation to invest and to protect our environment.  We all benefit from an equitable and healthy environment.

• Create a culture that includes protecting our environment: conserve energy by lowering consumption: use less water; turn off lights; reduce and reuse products like shopping bags and water bottles.  

• Incorporate native plants in your gardens:  this will bring butterflies and other important pollinators to your yard and support their life cycle. This creates a supportive habitat for all creatures, including humans.

Photo by Keren He.

This summer UMA will be partnering with Malden Catholic and Friends of the Malden River for PhotoVoice, a narrative and photography project along the Malden River, which will give students further experience in media production, environmental learning, and community service. This project will be partially funded by the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism. Contact Friends of the Malden River and Malden River Works for more ways you can get involved in their projects.


  1. Thank you from the Malden River, Friends of the Malden River, and Malden River Works! Great article – Kamila!

  2. Wonderful!! Great photos and story.
    Wow—such a beautiful article as well! A great call to action…. I love how it ends with a list of what people in Malden can do to help improve the river!!
    Kathy Vandiver, Malden River Works Team

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