Festival to shine light on beaches

Organizers expect Aug. 16's Dorchester Beach Festival at Malibu Beach to draw more than a thousand revelers. It was conceived as a way the highlight and take advantage of recent improvements to Dot's beaches, including increased staffing, investment in new safety equipment and more frequent trash collection.

A larger cousin of the July's Tenean Beach Festival, the Dorchester Beach Festival will have several interactive displays hosted by local organizations. Attendees can take a sailing lesson, courtesy of UMass-Boston's Marine Operations, learn about local marine life from the New England Aquarium or canoe in the cove with the Boston Natural Areas Network. The Dorchester Historical Society's exhibit will include beach photos from the turn of the last century and a reproduction of a painting of Savin Hill by the once celebrated but now long forgotten painter, Edward Mitchell Bannister, the original of which now hangs in the Smithsonian.

The festival will emphasize conservation, and attendees will be able to educate themselves about local environmental concerns.

"We want people to enjoy the beach, we also want to improve the beach," Paul Nutting, co-chair of the festival's planning committee said. "We figured education was the thing."

This summer, as gas prices creep skyward and the summer sun is inspiring people to venture out of doors, Dorchester's beaches have seen increased attendance. The timing is fortuitous, as cleanliness and water quality have improved this season. Deirdre Habershaw, president of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association and volunteer coordinator for the festival, said she has noticed increased beach attendance and more people swimming this season.

This summer the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) increased staffing on Dorchester's beaches and invested in new safety and sanitary equipment.

Ed Bullock is Dorchester's beach manager, a new administrative position recently created to oversee maintenance and programming on Dot's beaches. Park ranger Marshall Johnson has also been assigned to help coordinate beach events, which will increase this season. And Dorchester's 25 lifeguards have new rescue boards, kayak training and improved first aid training.

The DCR also recently began using a beach sanitizer, a car-sized machine that tills, aerates and cleans the beaches' sand.

"The whole consciousness of keeping the beach clean is much higher," Wendy Fox, press secretary for the DCR says. The increased funding for staffing and equipment that came through this year can be attributed to the Patrick administration's desire to "make these first class beaches," she said.

DCR's recent improvements have received praise from residents and community groups alike, though some point to a need for still more investment.

"We're starting to see improvements," said Bruce Berman, spokesperson for Save the Harbor-Save the Bay. "There used to be one dump truck that covered everything from South Boston to Nantasket, now there are more trucks and more staff."

Save the Harbor-Save the Bay provided the grant money that made both the Tenean and Dorchester Beach festivals possible. According to Berman, DCR's changes have resulted in increased attendance at Tenean and Malibu and this summer's beach festivals are a hallmark of the renewed interest in Dorchester's beaches. He credits the DCR for helping festival organizers by waiving permit fees.

Even given recent improvements, Berman said, the beaches need additional investment. Save the Harbor-Save the Bay recently composed a report for the state legislature that called for a five-year funding increase that would bring total spending to nearly double where it currently stands. They also see a need for programming parity with the region's larger beaches, including family activities and swim lessons.

Some long-standing desires have not been addressed. The DCR has no funding to replace the beach houses that were once at Malibu and Tenean and there are still gaps in the bike and pedestrian trail that DCR hopes to connect all the way from Carson Beach to the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton.

As the festival draws nearer its organizers continue to promote, distributing flyers everywhere from youth clubs to laundromats and lampposts. "We want everyone in Dorchester to come," said Nutting.