Free Pope JPII Park movies begin tonight

The Boston Natural Area Network this week kicked off its 16th annual Neponset Greenway Festival, a collection of free events along the Neponset River in Dorchester, Milton, Mattapan, and Hyde Park. A staple of the Festival is the outdoor Family Movie Series at Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester and the Martini Shell in Hyde Park. The first screening at the park is tonight at sunset.

According to BNAN President Valerie Burns, the idea for outdoor movies was inspired by the history of Pope John Paul II Park, which was home to a drive-in movie theater 50 years ago.

“Because people remembered the park as a drive-in, if they are old enough, the idea of an outdoor movie really appealed to people,” she said. The Family Movie Series has been in been in operation since 1995. For a new addition this year, the movies will be preceded by Ranger Recreation Fun, a children’s crafting and outdoors program led by BNAN staff one hour before the film screenings.

Because of licensing issues, BNAN is not allowed to publish the movie titles, says Burns. Instead, BNAN leaves clues on its website. The movie nights are sponsored by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. The movies run every week at Pope John Paul II Park on Thursdays and at the Martini Shell on Tuesdays. All begin at sunset.

The Greenway Festival also includes canoe trips on the Neponset for beginners and up, biking trips, a walking tour of the Greenway, a concert, and various crafting and nature workshops. In particular, BNAN is hosting a series of programs on Thursdays dubbed “Especially for Children” at the Ryan playground on River St. in Mattapan.

“It is just a great location for kids to come out to with day camps or with their parents,” said Burns, citing the playground’s accommodations, pool, and sprinklers as a good way to escape the summer heat. This week’s programming includes Rainforest Reptile Shows. “Especially for Children” is co-sponsored by the Mattapan Community Development Corporation.