State and local officials recently gathered in Winthrop to celebrate the completion of a project aimed at enhancing public access to the town’s portion of Belle Isle Marsh.
The $1.2 million project, undertaken by the town with state and local funds, involved creating a new approximately 1.5-mile system of paths along and above the marsh, as well as a new marine ecology park and pavilion.
“It’s a really good opportunity for people to interact with nature and understand our coastline,” Town Manager Austin Faison said. The marsh “is the intermediary between the ocean and our community and these buffer areas are very important to understand and protect.”
One of the state’s largest remaining salt marshes, the Belle Isle Marsh is an expanse of coastal wetlands in East Boston, Winthrop, and Revere that provide habitat to a variety of plants and marine life. It includes a 188-acre reservation managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The project is part of Walk Winthrop, an initiative officials launched several years ago to make the town a more walkable community, according to former town manager James McKenna. He said the marsh area seemed an ideal target of the plan because it is a natural area that until now has been largely neglected and little used by town residents.
“Unless you bring the marsh to the attention of people, it’s not something they are going to recognize as a valued place to observe and understand nature,” said McKenna.
The new path system begins with the sidewalk along Morton Street — newly improved as part of the project — from the intersection of Main and Pleasant streets just beyond the bridge to East Boston to the new park, a grassy area on the edge of the reservation, according to Steven Calla, Winthrop’s director of public works.
The park includes a new pavilion named after the late Mary A. Kelley, a longtime member and chair of the town’s Conservation Commission, who died Sept. 3.
From the park, the path system continues along a new wooden boardwalk above the marsh that connects to a new footbridge to the Belle Isle Cemetery. There, walkers can use an existing gravel path that surrounds that town-owned property.
A final feature of the project was the construction of another trail on the northeast side of the cemetery to connect the cemetery path to the John Kilmartin Trail and a footbridge — both built by DCR five years ago — that leads to Short Beach in Revere.
Town officials note that with the completion of the project, it is now possible to walk from the intersection of Pleasant and Main streets along sidewalks, walking paths, and footbridges to Short Beach without ever crossing a major street.
The project, which broke ground in June 2017, was funded with a $950,000 grant from the state Seaport Economic Council, and $250,000 in town funds, according to Calla.
“It was a much-needed project to enhance both recreation and education for the town of Winthrop,” he said.
Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, and state Senator Joseph Boncore — both Winthrop Democrats — and DCR Commissioner Leo Roy were among those taking part in the recent ribbon cutting for the project.
“It gives people a reason to reconnect with the Belle Isle Marsh,” McKenna said. “When people become more knowledgeable about the importance of the sanctuary, they will provide better stewardship of it.”
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.