Harbor Islands beckon as affordable ‘staycation’ option

Just across Dorchester Bay 34 islands beckon, promising the perfect inexpensive late summer getaway. Every season thousands from Boston and around the world take the ferry to parts of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park to explore historic sites, watch wildlife, hike, kayak, picnic, fish, swim, and even camp overnight.

They can participate in an oyster-shucking contest or in Outward Bound’s 10th Annual 4k Trail Run over the 204 acres of rolling hills, forests, meadows, salt marshes and beaches on Thompson’s Island.
Park Rangers on Spectacle Island are ready to help kids loft kites or loan adults GPS units keyed to the Island Cache Program, a hiking-based “treasure hunt” through some of the park’s most significant historical and natural locations.

For many, immersion in all this pristine beauty is adventure enough, but others need a specific destination or event to motivate a trip, and there are plenty of cultural and competitive options to lure them.

For example, tomorrow (Aug. 27) Georges Island hosts the final free performances of “Folktales: Near and Far.”  Performed by the City Stage Company, this lively 45-minute show includes “Grandfather Sun” and “The Wings of the Butterfly.” Catch “Butterfly” and the other tales at 11:30 am or 1 p.m.

 Sports fans and history buffs may prefer to step into the 1860’s and watch Civil War-era baseball games played by the original rules at Georges Island’s historic Fort Warren. On August 28th, Boston Harbor Island park rangers face off against the Essex Vintage Base Ball Club (in their square hats and period uniforms). The pitching is strictly underhand, and nobody wears gloves.

Even after Labor Day, there are plenty of great reasons to take the ferry or one’s own vessel out into the Harbor. Dennis Lehane fans may be disappointed that there’s no actual Shutter Island to investigate, but on September 12, they can do the next best thing during a rare excursion to Rainsford Island.  The 11-acre isle features ruins left from two centuries of institutional use including a quarantine hospital and poorhouse.

On September 17, painters from the Hull Life-Saving Museum and Artists for Humanity will welcome the curious to watch them try to capture the beauty of views from Spectacle Island on canvas during a four-hour plein-air session starting at 11 am.

According to Bob Johnstone, race director of the 2010 Boston Harbor Islands Regatta, scheduled for Saturday, September 25, “All sailors, from beginner to pro, are invited to participate in this fun-filled pursuit race, round-the-islands. There are trophies for the top woman, master (age 65+), all-family crew, and top yacht club.”

The anytime, never-fails-to-please option is the three-hour lighthouse tour. Passing by Long Island Light and The Graves Light, visitors disembark at Little Brewster Island to experience the first lighthouse station in the United States, and the last to retain a Coast Guard keeper.  Those in shape can climb the 76 steps (and two ladders) up Boston Light’s tower and see the historic Fresnel lens. 

For details, check out bostonislands.com and islandalliance.org.