Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy

Ever since the 1950s, it’s been illegal to swim in Boston’s Charles River. And who would have wanted to? For many years, it was “basically an open sewer,” as one conservationist put it, with road dirt and salt, garbage, dog poop, and other wonderful enhancements running in off the street.

But over the past couple of decades, efforts to clean up the river have improved the water quality. In fact, they’ve improved it so much that over the weekend the Charles River Conservancy and the Charles River Swimming Club co-hosted [PDF] the first public swim in the river in about 50 years. (Competitive swimmers started racing annually in the river in 2007.) Dozens of Bostonians jumped off a dock and into the river:

Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy

The Boston Globe reported that the water was … well, it was … fine:

It’s warm, came one report. It feels great, came another. And then a woman looked down and shouted what was unmistakable for the people standing above.

“It’s orange,” she yelled as she looked down at her body in the water, which faded to black somewhere around the thighs. “We look orange.”

A man on the dock said it was more like beef broth. Renata von Tscharner, the head of the Charles River Conservancy, said she preferred to describe it as a tea.

But, most importantly, it was safe. As long as the swimmers didn’t touch the bottom. (Jumping off the dock was actually a requirement, not just a fun way of getting in the water.) The bottom’s still full of god-knows-what. You don’t want your feet anywhere near that.

Topher Baldwin/Charles River Conservancy