Shopping carts and hazardous waste on Mill Creek have quietly yielded in recent years to fish and wildlife – and one wild swan nicknamed ‘Gus’ has united residents on both sides of the creek with his friendly demeanor and unique personality.
Mill Creek, which serves as the city line between Revere and Chelsea, was a victim of the industrial revolution. Though it had been a beautiful tidal creek in the past – industry, oil farms and shipping concerns found the Chelsea Creek/Mill Creek area to be an advantageous location from the early 1900s to the 1980s.
They left it a mess, and residents abutting the Creek on the Revere and Chelsea sides are now reporting that it just might have recovered.
“I was raised to be scared of this creek,” Pattie Buckley, who lives on the Chelsea side and has a large backyard that faces the Creek. “I was told never to come here. If I ever fell in, I was told they would have to scrub me and take me to the hospital for a tetanus shot and I would still probably get sick. Now, it’s totally different. The water is clear and there are a lot of interesting things going on now with the wildlife. I’m really learning a lot about birds and I like them a lot now. I didn’t know anything about these birds before.”
Said Richie Smith, a Chelsea resident and 9-1-1 dispatcher, “The only thing you could see in terms of wildlife in the past was the Cabot Paint cans floating on the water. Now, coming out here is like therapy. It’s a little bit of hidden serenity here.”
Revere resident Dana-Zoe Gest – who lives in an apartment in the historically renovated Slade’s Spice Mill – said that she had heard that the water underneath her had a bad reputation when she moved in, and she believed the stories.
However, her eyes were telling her something else.
“This water is much cleaner than we all think,” she said. “When I came here three years ago, it was pretty clean. I happened to take a canoe ride through the Creek and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The next year I began noticing the wildlife coming in and the fish…What we have here now is just like this incredible little spot in Revere and Chelsea.”
In fact, Gest began chronicling the wildlife that she saw daily out of her back window and took beautiful pictures of many of the birds and native plants – all of which she posts on the Internet in her blog called ‘dakotablue.vox.com.’
In the process of chronicling the changes outside her window, one day last June Gest noticed a big white bird swimming casually in the Creek.
It caused her to do a double take, and on second glance, she was looking at a wild swan that appeared to be a little sickly.
“I was just looking out my window and saw this swan swimming by,” said Gest. “I grabbed my camera and took pictures of him thinking that I would never see him again. But he has stayed and it’s been wonderful.”
A similar situation has unfolded all along the Creek with Gus and the neighbors.
Gus has visited the Irish Club, the Cronin Skating Rink and even further down at the new Parkside Commons Shopping Center.
Buckley said Gus – who is easily three-feet tall – waddled up to her back door from the Creek one day. It was a pleasant surprise for her, and the two bonded immediately.
Now, she makes daily trips to the Rink or to visit Gest at the Slade’s Mill in order to feed Gus. While he is wild and they do not wish to domesticate him, a bond has grown as the group has rehabilitated the once-feeble swan.
The swan even seems to look forward to the daily visits – which come with a lot of talking as well as soda crackers, cans of sweet corn and water donated by Poland Springs.
“He’s a character,” said Smith. “He’s like a cartoon. He’s very fun and comical and not at all aggressive. He loves the company believe it or not and seems to crave it. He even recognizes voices and will come to you if he knows you.”
Added Buckley, “I’ve never known anything about swans until now, but if I’m ever a little down or sad, I go find Gus.”
All three are curious about where Gus came from, and the general consensus is that he and a mate (who were actually spotted on Revere Beach last winter and chronicled on the front page of the Journal) stayed behind a few years ago when a flock of wild swans left for the winter.
Not long after the pictures appeared in the Journal, Gus’s mate was hit and killed by a car on the Boulevard. It was but a month later that Gus appeared on the Creek in a weakened state.
All of the adventures with Gus and the appearance of so many other birds – and possibly even the endangered Piping Plovers – lead many neighbors to call for Mill Creek to become a bird sanctuary.
As crazy as it seems for those who associate the Creek more with dead bodies and sunken shopping carts rather than fish and wildlife, neighbors said that they’ve witnessed a turnaround.
“This place needs to become a bird sanctuary and it needs to be preserved and not disturbed because some amazing things are happening here,” said Gest. “We’ve seen them ourselves.”