A group of Boston-area residents took to the Dorchester coastline this week â€“ not to watch the sailboats from the Savin Hill Yacht Club or to view the sunset from Malibu Beach â€“ but to get their hands dirty in preparation for a celebration the likes of which the neighborhood sees only once a year.
The Dorchester Beach Festival will be be held a week from Saturday, Aug. 8, at Savin Hill and Malibu, marking the festivalâ€™s second year of celebrating a coastline that has been greatly improved since the days of the cityâ€™s litter-strewn urban seashore and barely swimmable, polluted harbor.
â€œThe waterâ€™s a lot cleaner, so people are using the beach a lot more,â€ said Paul Nutting, co-chairman and co-founder of the Beach Festival.
The beachgoers on hand Monday evening were volunteers picking up trash and debris for the seventh annual Savin Hill Shoreline Cleanup, an outing meant to groom the beaches before the big day. For seven years, state Sen. Jack Hart has been helping organize and sponsor the event, providing food and refreshments to the volunteers as well as supplying more than a little elbow grease to the cleanup project.
â€œItâ€™s great to see people coming back to the beaches,â€ Hart said.
The Festival kicks off at 11 a.m. at Malibu and Savin Hill, both of which are accessible from Morrissey Blvd. and Savin Hill Rd. respectively. Nutting expects the festival to be a â€œHatch Shell-caliber event,â€ with between 3,500 and 5,000 attendees. Organizers are making final arrangments for the five -hour festival and are hopeful that additional donations will be made to provide live entertainment to the crowd.
Flyers for the event advertise sailing in Malibu Cove, volleyball demonstrations, recycling clinics, health and wellness screenings, canoeing and a number of other activities. For children, there willl be an â€œeco scavenger hunt,â€ arts & crafts, facepainting, field games, a â€œbeach bounceâ€ jumphouse, kite flying, and, of course, an ice cream truck. Booths and exhibits from the Franklin Park Zoo, JFK Library, Magic 106.7 radio and other organizations will be open to festival goers throughout the day.
The turnout for Mondayâ€™s cleanup was on par with years past, said Nutting, even though it has usually been held on Saturday mornings when more volunteers are available to pitch in.
â€œTonight, these are all neighbors,â€ said Nutting, referring to the 25 to 30 volunteers who were combing the coastline with rakes and other tools to dig up litter, cigarette butts, and other debris along the beach.
According to Nutting, neighborhood engagement has been a prime factor in the struggle to improve Dorchesterâ€™s beaches over the last fifteen years.
As a result of renewed interest in local beaches, officials from the state and city have worked with neightborhood activists to improve the quality of Bostonâ€™s metropolitan coastline. Sen. Hart said that his efforts and those of other legislators have gained $2 million in additional funding for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees all three of Dorchesterâ€™s beaches. The funding has allowed the department to better staff the beaches and allowed the purchase of a sand sifter, a machine Nutting describes as a â€œzamboni for sand."
The festival is funded by a $2,500 grant from Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, a group dedicated to the conservation of Massachusettsâ€™ iconic coast. DCR, the Boston Foundation, National Grid and other local institutions and organizations have aided the effort with in-kind donations of equipment and services.
Dorchesterâ€™s other stretch of coast, the Tenean beach, held its own beach day last Saturday, an event also funded by a grant from Save the Harbor/Save the Bay. Then on Monday, the DCR posted a warning that elevated bacteria levels would make swimming there unsafe. The phenomena of tainted coastal waters has been exacerbated this season, the DCR said, as unusually high June rainfall has washed various pollutants into the ocean. Four Boston-area beaches are on the warnings list:
Tenean, Wollaston Beach in Quincy, and a pair of South Boston beaches â€“ Carson Beach and Pleasure Bay. Closings are updated daily at 5 a.m., as the state tests water quality at all public beaches. Anne Roach, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said rain washes residue from residentsâ€™ driveways and yards into storm drains, which in turn spill into open water. Roach said shallow beaches along Boston Harbor are affected by runoff more than deep-water beaches such as Nantasket Beach, where â€œthe tide kind of carries things away.â€
Also, an increase in beachgoers sometimes means an increase in human-generated trash collecting on the beach. Its one small problem in an otherwise positive story of environmental and neighborhood rehabilitation, but advocates like Nutting and festival co-chair Maureen McQuillen hope that attitudes will change and residents will treat the areaâ€™s coastline with respect.
â€œYou still get the people who donâ€™t respect the beach as much as they should,â€ said Nutting. â€œIf everyone treated it the way some people treat it, this would be a place no one would want to come to.â€