Improved Beaches Still Largely Empty

A multi-million dollar renovation of Dorchester's three neighborhood beaches - Malibu, Savin Hill, and Tenean - has provided little incentive for beachgoers to return to the beaches. Concerns about the cleanliness of the water, coupled with a relative lack of amenities, continue to make neighborhood beaches a second or third option for locals looking to beat the heat.

In recent years, a renovation and beautification project brought a boardwalk, new lighting, and 5,000 tons of new sand to the Malibu-Savin Hill site. Similar renovations were performed on Tenean Beach. The project, begun in 1993 as part of Mayor Thomas M. Menino's "Back to the Beaches" initiative, was the work of the Metropolitan District Commission - now the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Work on the project officially began in 2000 and was completed in 2002.

Workers and beachgoers recognize that the renovations have improved the aesthetic appeal of the beaches.

Lifeguards Liz Moran and Katie Bennett, both in their second summer at Malibu, see a definite difference in the beach's appearance. "The boardwalk and the lights have made it so much prettier," said Moran.

Arlene Ryan of South Boston, at Malibu Beach for the day with her daughter, noted that the sand at Malibu is softer than at other local beaches. While Ryan found the beach and the surrounding area to be pleasant, she echoed the popular opinion regarding the quality of the water at Malibu Beach. "I'm not sure how safe it is to go swimming," said Ryan.

Nicole Doran of South Boston came to Malibu Beach strictly for sun bathing. "I definitely wouldn't swim here. The water doesn't seem clean," said Doran.

Questions about water cleanliness are very common, according to Scott Martin, first-year manager of Malibu Beach. Martin maintains that the water is clean, and that he sees a regular flow of swimmers and waders.

Despite the renovation concerns about the water's cleanliness persist. Nonetheless, the early part of the season has seen an increase in attendance at Malibu. "Clearly, activity has increased," said State Representative Martin Walsh. "I'm in the area coaching Little League and I've seen more people out there this season."

Moran and Bennett, along with Martin, agree that there has been an increase in beach traffic this season. "We have our regulars," said Moran. "People who swim out all the way then come back and lay out on the beach all day."

Regardless of renovations or water quality, for some beachgoers Dorchester's beaches lack the feel of a "real beach," that they can find in South Boston at Carson Beach or Castle Island. "Carson feels like being at the ocean. Malibu and Tenean are too small, they feel more like parks than a beach," said Jennifer Schmidt of Savin Hill.

Others, though, see an allure in the smaller feel of Dorchester's community beaches. "I'll definitely be back [to Malibu]," said Ryan as her daughter used a seashell to dig into the heavy, wet sand near the water's edge. "It's quiet and we get space to ourselves."

"If you want to get away from the crowds at Castle Island, this is perfect," said Bennett.

While the Dorchester's beaches are a quiet alternative to more crowded beaches in the area, they are not the first choice for many beachgoers.

Part of the reason for this, Walsh and beachgoer Paul Nutting believe, is the lack of quality bathhouses and other facilities. They also agree that word needs to get around to people in the area about the new-look Dorchester beaches. "It's word of mouth," said Walsh. "People need to hear about these beaches in their own backyard."

Original plans for the renovation included new bathhouses at both Malibu and Tenean. According to Nutting, former president of the Columbia/Savin Hill Civic Association and a founder of the Savin Hill Shores environmental group, a lack of funding has prevented either bathhouse from being built to completion, and the lack of quality facilities continues to be a major obstacle to Dorchester's beaches realizing their full potentials.