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From City Dump to Sunny Beach

Spectacle Island has something for everyone


Photo by Dan Watkins

Once a dump for the city of Boston, Spectacle Island today is one of the crown jewels of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreational Area. Located just four miles offshore from Boston, the island was opened to the public in 2006 after years of neglect. First used by Native Americans as a fishing and clamming spot, the island was a smallpox quarantine site during the 17th century, later becoming home to a city trash incinerator and dump. During the Big Dig excavation, the island was covered up with clay and topsoil. Thousands of trees were planted, and a beach, marina and hiking trails were added.

Today, Spectacle Island is one of nearly three dozen Boston Harbor islands maintained by the National Park Service. While many offer hiking and picnicking areas (grills are provided for those who bring their own food), Spectacle Island is the only one with a beach staffed with lifeguards. For $20, you can take a 15-minute ferry ride from Long Wharf to the sandy beach. If you have your own boat, you can use one of the island marina’s 38 boat slips.

Boasting the highest point in Boston Harbor, the island is the perfect place to fly kites. Each Saturday through the end of August the park provides free materials to make your own kite (one per family); also on Saturday mornings, yoga is offered (bring your own mat). On Tuesdays through August, there is a special program of nature walks, arts and crafts, and storytelling for toddlers and preschoolers. And if you’re planning a visit on a Thursday night, you might want to shell out for the island’s Sunset Clambake. For $70 or $75 per adult, you get a ferry ride to the island and a dinner of clam chowder, a steamed lobster, mussels, steamers, corn on the cob, new potatoes, chorizo, and a dessert, prepared by Summer Shack.

Hikers will want to hit the trails leading to the two summits of the island. Unique among the Boston Harbor Islands, Spectacle has a visitor center and a cafe.

To reach Spectacle Island via public transportation, take any MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center, switch to an outbound Blue Line train and get off at the Aquarium stop, and walk to Long Wharf. Ferries depart every half hour.

John Fichera can be reached at jfichera@bu.edu.

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