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Report lauds gains at DCR beaches

Trend threatened by cutbacks, group warns

Nantasket Beach, like other state-run beaches, is cleaner and more appealing than in 2007, a report says.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2013

Nantasket Beach, like other state-run beaches, is cleaner and more appealing than in 2007, a report says.

As balmy weather beckons area residents to the seashore, a state panel is applauding the positive changes at Boston-area beaches since 2007 while warning that spending cuts threaten to wash those gains away.

Seven years after finding that the area’s 15 public beaches — including Nantasket in Hull and Wollaston in Quincy — suffered from poor maintenance and a pressing need for facility upgrades, the Metropolitan Beaches Commission in a new report paints a sunnier picture.

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The report pointed to “greatly improved conditions” at the beaches, which are managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. It said many of its recommendations from 2007 have been enacted, “resulting in improved water quality, cleaner sand, and higher standards of maintenance.”

It added, though, that “sustained progress has not occurred in advancing other commission recommendations,” including in the areas of staffing, equipment purchases and maintenance, and free programs.

In addition to Nantasket and Wollaston, the report covers Nahant Beach; Revere Beach; Short Beach in Winthrop and Revere; Winthrop Beach; King’s Beach in Lynn; Constitution Beach in East Boston; Malibu Beach, Savin Hill Beach, and Tenean Beach in Dorchester; and Carson Beach, L Street Beach, M Street Beach, and Pleasure Bay in South Boston.

The commission, created by the Legislature in 2006, reconvened last year to assess the progress made since its 2007 report. As part of its latest work, it conducted 10 public hearings in beach communities, including Hull and Quincy.

“We have made great strides on the beaches since the commission held hearings in 2007, but many of the gains are at risk because of the erosion of the budget during the recession,” said Bruce Berman, an official with Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, which manages the commission’s work.

Joan Meschino, a former Hull selectwoman and a commission member, said the 2007 report focused on how “the basics” of managing the beaches, such as picking up trash, painting, and general maintenance, were being neglected.

“We were all experiencing a lot of the same things,” she said of the various beach communities. “What we learned was that it came from a fundamental lack of resources and just a sheer inability by DCR to fulfill its own mission.

“The commission brought together people from all of these beaches and leveraged their common voice to make improvements across the board for all of us,” Meschino said. But with spending cuts, “we are starting to see it slip again. This report focuses on the need for long-term stewardship.”

The panel said the gains at both Nantasket and Wollaston beaches have been substantial.

Nantasket is now “clean and well maintained, with increased police and EMS presence,” the report said. “The beach and the bathhouse are now year-round resources for the community. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of events and activities . . . and relationships with DCR have improved.’’

However, the report said, “coastal erosion and coastal storms are ongoing public safety concerns,” and should be addressed in a master plan.

The panel also cited the need at Nantasket for better enforcement of parking and dog rules; improving public transportation to and along the beach; creation of a shaded green space; and renovations to the playground. Additionally, it called for staffing the reservation for year-round use, reviving weekend ferry service to Boston, and initiating ferry service to Peddocks Island.

At Wollaston, “improvements to the sidewalks, streets, and sea wall have made it a great place to walk or run,” the commission said, pointing also to better water quality, calmer traffic, more regular trash pickup, better maintenance of the bathhouses, and new family-oriented activities.

But it said more needs to be done to improve water quality and to tackle such problems as grass and weed growth and a shortage of trash and recycling containers. It also called for adding a playground and a dog park, and providing a ferry service to the harbor islands, Logan, and downtown Boston.

“The capital improvements that have happened at Wollaston Beach over the past seven years have been excellent,” said Neil McCole, president of the Friends of Wollaston Beach. “The local staff of the DCR have worked very hard to keep the beach an attractive community asset. They certainly could use more help with that, including personnel and trash and recycling receptacles.”

He said the top priority of his association going forward is improving the water quality and DCR programs.

“We are going to look to strong collaboration from local, state, and federal officials and agencies” to address the problem, he said, including measures to control storm run-off into Quincy Bay.

The report also said that while staffing levels at the beaches improved after 2007, they have again declined in recent years, warning that without a reversal of that trend, “the beaches will inevitably reenter a cycle of decline.”

In an interview, DCR Commissioner Jack Murray said the beaches panel “did an excellent job in describing where we have done well and where we need to continue to improve.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.

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