Last Saturday, Tenean Beach, one of Dorchester’s three public beaches, was unusually busy. Moms and dads strolled with baby carriages along the walkway. Children joyfully screamed in a red, blue and yellow bouncy house. Songs like “Uptown Funk” and “I Like to Move It” blared from a DJ’s speakers and iridescent soap bubbles from two foaming machines filled the air.
At 11 a.m. Tenean Beach Day, a free public annual event put on by the Port Norfolk Civic Association with the help of a grant from Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s Better Beaches Program, was in full swing.
Visitors from various neighborhoods of Boston and beyond were treated to free pizza and ice cream from the Boston Police ice cream truck and entertained by the mingling performers of the Boston Circus Guild.
The goal of the event was to bring more people to the beach, said Maria Lyons, a resident of Port Norfolk and a member of its civic association.
Tenean Beach is located on the Neponset River delta along Conley Street and is separated from the rest of the Dorchester by I-93 near Exit 12. The sandy beach is more than 600 feet long and about 60 feet wide at high tide. It offers a view of the “Rainbow Swash” National Grid natural gas tank, downtown Boston downtown, UMass Boston, and nearby marinas.
Lyons said the DCR has been improving the beach for the past 10 years. A paved walkway that is lined with benches and lighted at night runs along the beach. Four wooden shelters provide shade. One can also take refuge in a small green park on the right side, which offers several picnic tables. There is a playground, two tennis courts, and a basketball court nearby.
“I bring the kids here every once in a while,” said Sophia Gittens of Lower Mills, who brought her three, aged 7, 10 and 12 to Tenean Beach Day. “This is something good for the kids to do out in the community.”
There were things to do both for children and their parents. Many children surrounded New England Aquarium’s tanks, where they could touch local marine wildlife like muscles, scallops, sea urchins, a spider crab, and a bright orange bat star, native to Northern California. A separate tank contained baby mud snails and long clawed hermit crabs that the aquarium representatives collected at the beach. Armed with buckets and magnifying glasses, children were encouraged to go into the water to search for more snails and crabs on their own.
Another popular activity was painting. Dot Art, a local non-profit organization that encourages children ages 3 to 10 to make art, set up a tent with painting supplies and easels, and children could exhibit their creations on lines that were hung along the perimeter of the tent.
Adults were able to find out more about the community and local initiatives. A Greenovate representative was informing visitors about the kick-off in September of Climate Ready Dorchester Program, which is a part of the city’s initiative to prepare neighborhoods for the impacts of climate change, specifically coastal flooding and sea level rise.
Representatives of the Neponset River Watershed Association and Neponset River Greenway Council were on hand to talk about protection of the river basin as well as exploration and enjoyment of the river by bike or kayak.
Some visitors, like Robert LeBron, 17, Bobbie Odom, 27, and Nazia Perry, 23, didn’t know about the event. They live near Ashmont Hill and sometimes walk down to the beach. Now they were enjoying ice cream and discussing the event. “This is super cool,” said Perry.
“We wish more people just knew about it. There is a lot of people and a lot of kids in Dorchester, and people would enjoy this,” said Odom. The group knew of someone who swam at the Tenean beach, but they said they were not keen on swimming in the water without knowing how clean it was.
A DCR sign on a lamppost says that the beach is open for swimming. According to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, in 2014-2018, 71 percent to 95 percent of water samples have met swimming standards at Tenean Beach. There are no more combined sewer overflows that impact the beach. Currently, sources of bacteria at the beach include animal and bird waste and urban stormwater runoff in wet weather.
Still, it is a good idea to call the DCR beach line at 617-626-4972 that is prerecorded every morning at 6 o’clock. The phone message details the beaches in the Commonwealth that have been issued a warning or are closed for swimming.
Another improvement that the beach is still lacking is its own bath house with showers and toilets. Sal Giarratani, a silver-haired former resident of Clam Point who now lives in East Boston, said such amenities are important to promote the beach.
“I used to come over here because there is no one. Nobody knows about it. And you just open up your chair...and just relax.”