Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Boston already has a waterfront park. Let’s make it easier to get there

Visitors enjoy spectacular views as they walk the trails at Spectacle Island. (Patricia Harris for The Boston Globe)
Patricia Harris for The Boston Globe
Visitors enjoy spectacular views as they walk the trails at Spectacle Island.

It’s 8 a.m., and the breakwater at Fan Pier Marina is abuzz with kids getting ready for a fishing tournament. Poles are being passed out, bait distributed, the volunteer cadre of boat-loaning captains assigned their youthful crews. And then they’re off to ply the waters of Boston Harbor.

It’s just another of the many harbor-centered activities organized by Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, the civic nonprofit that’s done so much to get urban kids both to the beach and out on the water. Last summer, with the help of generous in-kind contributions from Bay State Cruise Co., Save the Harbor took some 9,400 youngsters on 27 free trips to the Boston Harbor Islands. Those numbers reflect a surging interest in our own aquatic front yard, say Patricia Foley and Bruce Berman, the duo that leads the high-energy nonprofit.

Save the Harbor’s success makes you wonder if we’re missing the forest for the trees. Or, in this case, the islands for the shore. What do I mean? Well, just as an example, the Trustees of Reservations have recently made headlines and generated considerable civic excitement with their aspiration to build a new waterfront park in Boston.

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But we’ve already done that, offshore, with Spectacle Island. If you haven’t been there, you owe it to yourself to make the trip. Once the gritty home of a horse-and-cattle rendering plant (think: glue factory) and a grease extraction facility, plus a municipal landfill (think: dump), the island was capped with tons upon tons of Big Dig dirt and sculpted into a park with beaches, trails, picnic spots, and a broad, high open space for activities.

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The panoramic views from its crown are riveting. A sweeping glance takes you from Boston’s high rises to Logan Airport, its roar muffled by distance, to that modern wonder, the MWRA’s wastewater-treatment plant. (Don’t laugh; our investment therein has transformed a body of water once so polluted it made a cameo in the 1988 presidential campaign into one of the country’s cleanest urban harbors.) From there, your eyes travel to the outer islands and open ocean. Look south, and the harbor unfolds in its multi-bayed beauty.

People I talked to who were visiting Spectacle for the first time exclaimed not just about the view but also the island itself. “It surprised me how nice it is,” said Ted Jones, a 20-year resident of Brookline who was there with his son Seth.

So what if we had a concerted public-private-
nonprofit effort to make better use of Spectacle and the other islands that are already part of the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park?

There are certainly ample ways for philanthropists to step up. Spectacle, Berman says, won’t have lifeguards at its beach for the last week in August, due to tight budgets. Peddocks Island hasn’t had lifeguards at all this summer, and needs showers.

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And what if the 25-minute ferry ride were free? Currently, it’s $17 for those 12 and above and $10 for kids 3 to 11, or $43 for a family of four. That’s a sharp pinch for families on a tight budget.

Berman says for $250,000 to $500,000, a nonprofit could provide free hourly service to Spectacle Island for a 100-day warm-weather season. Free summer ferry service would make our now sparkling harbor what it deserves to be: central to Boston’s summer sense of itself.

“It would be truly transformational for the region’s kids and families,” he says. Perhaps even as transformational as the effort philanthropist Jack Connors quarterbacked to establish Camp Harbor View on Long Island.

If one were, say, a big multinational corporation building a new headquarters at Fort Point Channel, adding that to your list of philanthropic causes would certainly make a big splash.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.