In the spring of 2004, Tom McNichol, a retired computer engineer, sat in a launch in the Charles River Basin, coaching the Noble and Greenough School sailing team. As racing sloops zipped around the Charles River Basin, Tom once again noticed the trash littering the river’s surface. He realized that the drifts of plastic bottles, plastic straws, cigarette butts, and snack bags floating past were actually blowing from one side of the basin to the other; thinking back, he also realized that with each sailing season the drifts had seemed to grow bigger.
Tom talked to the other sailing coaches, and suggested that rather than wait for some other group or authority to take responsibility, the coaching group could organize themselves into a cleanup crew and start to remove the trash themselves. Enough coaches liked the idea that Tom assembled an aluminum skiff, a motor, and a collection of pool nets and garbage bins, and organized a weekly schedule for them to scoop trash off the river surface. Other volunteers heard about the effort and joined in. In 2004 Tom formed the Charles River Clean Up Boat organization and acquired 501(c)3 status for it.
Since then, the Clean Up Boat has operated every year between May and October. The boat is now a slightly bigger aluminum bass boat, but still, four days a week, the driver of the day navigates it downriver from Watertown down to the Zakim Bridge, moving slowly enough for volunteers to spot and pick up trash in the river and in Lechmere Canal. We have a group of over 250 volunteers and four paid drivers.
Tom McNichol was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and to the profound sadness of those who joined him in the river cleaning efffort, he died in late 2017. He left behind the great legacy of the Clean Up Boat – the will to clean the beautiful Charles River, and the way to do so. The spring season is coming up soon, and we aim to make the Clean Up Boat’s fifteenth year on the river its best yet.