A day at Dot's beaches: Festival draws crowds to sands of Malibu, Savin Hill

The weather this summer has been spotty at best, with an unusual amount of cloudy days and copious amounts of rainfall, enough to dampen even the sunniest of dispositions.

But last Saturday, Aug. 16, dawned bright and sunny, the temps reached into the low 80s, and the long-planned revival of a return to Dot's bountiful beaches came off with nary a hitch.

It was the first Dorchester Beach Festival, staged at Malibu and adjacent Savin Hill beaches, and the day turned out to bring hundreds of rain-weary local citizens out of their homes and back to the waters. For four hours at least, Dot residents flocked to the town's Atlantic Ocean beaches.

"The idea of today was to bring people down to the beach, because this is such a beautiful spot, and not many people use it," said event co-chair Paul Nutting of Savin Hill. "So we decided that we would have this festival to show people how beautiful this beach is.

"It is going wonderfully," he said, as folks young and old came out for some communal time in the sun. "The old adage, the best laid plans - we have had the best laid plans and there haven't been any glitches, so far. It has been very rewarding to see all the people and all the smiles on their faces."

The four-hour fest began at noon, timed to take advantage of an 11:50 a.m. high tide, and featured sunbathing, sailboat rides with members of the UMass-Boston sailing club and an assortment of on-land attractions.

"UMass-Boston is one of our biggest sponsors, and we had DotWell," Nutting said. "Actually the first sponsor was Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, they gave us the seed money, the grant to start this whole program. Also the Mass Convention Center Authority was very generous, as was Corcoran Jennison. Senator John Kerry and City Council president Maureen Feeney were very generous as well."

As he spoke, a line 50 deep queued up at a mobile ice cream truck to fetch a free soft service ice cream horn, a traditional offering underwritten at many community events by City Councillor Maureen Feeney.

"I think this is the most ice cream that Maureen has ever sent to an event - enough for 1000. We really appreciate that contribution," Nutting said.

Another Savin Hill resident, Maureen McQuillen, a former senior art director for a women's apparel company, co-chaired the festival, which drew support from as many as 170 volunteers and exhibitors.

"The focus today is about bringing people back to the beaches," McQuillen said. "My co-chair Paul Nutting and I both felt that the Savin Hill and Malibu beaches really were underutilized, and we really wanted the residents to appreciate that this is right in their back yard and they have public access to the beach. There are so many communities- the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, the Cape, and areas where people can't access the ocean directly. So we decided to have an event with kind of an environmental and eco/health and awareness angle to it.

"It's going phenomenal," she said. "We're very excited, the weather is beautiful, the agencies that have participated are out in full force. We have people from the Historical Society, the JFK Library, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, local artists, health and wellness agencies, fish and games."

The event stretched out all along the salt water lagoon bordered by Morrissey Blvd. and the Beades Bridge to the east, and the slow-moving traffic of the Southeast Expressway to the west, and many availed themselves of a stroll along a new board walk installed several years ago by the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation. For many, it was a first-time visit to the ocean waters along the Dorchester waterfront, much of which had fallen into disuse a generation ago due to water pollution. Off-shore, a newly acquired city-owned "pump-out" vessel, which collects waste from commercial vessels, made its debut. The 31-foot boat, "Head of the Harbor," will serve as a research base for UMass-Boston's Marine Studies program when it's not busy pumping wastewater and keeping the waters clean.

Other longtime Savin Hill residents reveled in a return to the shoreline, some recalling long ago visits when it was a popular summertime cooling-off spot.

"I remember when it was hard to find room on the beach, there were so many people here," one unidentified, older beachgoer said. "They had a little snackshop here - the bungalow - it was a wonderful place!"

But that was then and this is now, still just a few short years after the improvement of the water quality brought about by a court-ordered clean-up of Boston Harbor that has continued for more than 20 years, and remains unfinished.

But even if only a handful of the revelers actually dipped a toe into the waters of the Atlantic on Saturday, the day was counted a success by the organizers as the advance publicity and the bright, warm sunshine brought the throng to the beaches.

"We told DCR that even if it was a red flag day, we wanted blue flags, and I think that brought out the sun as well," Nutting said. "We are hoping to perpetuate it. By looking around, everybody can see what a great event it is, and maybe by next year we will have additional features."

Will the two co-chairs have the energy to do it again next year?

"Oh, absolutely," McQuillen said. "It's a lot of work, but it's worth it."