The waterways leading to the 34-island federal Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area are similar to the roadways leading through state and national parks. But there is one critical difference. Unless you own your own boat, the only way to the islands is via private ferry at the rate of $15 for adults, $11 for seniors, and $9 for children ages 3-11. The $60 cost for a 20-minute ferry ride for a couple and two teens is too steep for many families, especially when combined with the high parking costs near the departure point at downtown Long Wharf. And the usual efforts by the National Park Service to ease access at park entrances — deeply discounted annual passes, senior passes, free admission for guests of pass holders — don’t apply to the ferry service.
Visitors who make the trip are almost unanimous in their praise of the scenic walking trails on Spectacle Island and the historic sites on Georges Island. More adventuresome visitors can also catch water shuttles to wilder islands in the outer harbor. But to attract visitors, Harbor Islands park operators must bring down ferry prices — by attracting more patrons to spread out the cost of the service, cutting a more favorable deal with a private ferry operator, or subsidizing fares using privately raised money.