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South Boston Online
South Boston Online
  Friday, March 27, 2015
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The Harbor's Newest, Closest Island
By Rick Winterson
    Spectacle Island is now open to the public.  South Boston residents shouldn’t miss the newest addition to the Harbor Islands National Park.  It’s the closest of the islands – just a 10-minute catamaran ride from Long Wharf.  Technically speaking, Thompson’s Island might be a bit closer to the tip of Castle Island, but visiting there is restricted only to certain days, since it’s owned by Outward Bound.  Spectacle Island is open seven days a week through Labor Day weekend.

     The “Island Expedition” is a twin-hulled catamaran that is quite stable.  As it departs

     Long Wharf for Spectacle Island, the view of the Boston skyline becomes ever more impressive.  Just head for Castle Island, bear right and Spectacle is dead ahead by Thompson’s Island.

     Last Sunday was sunny but hazy.  Even so, you could feel the UVB rays penetrating – don’t ever forget the sunscreen, on even a short ocean cruise.  The first cool breezes were picked up as the boat passed the Conley Terminal.  A few minutes later, it pulled into a shiny new pier of aluminum and pressure-treated tropical wood.  Just off the pier is a large, gray, wood-framed Visitors Center.

     There’s a lot to do on Spectacle Island.  A pleasant, life-guarded beach sits next to the Visitors Center facing west.  Docking is available for private boats.  Both kayaking and fishing are good; kayaks, fishing gear, and beach umbrellas are available for rent. 

     The Visitors Center contains a small museum area with artifacts, old photographs, and four video presentations – one each on the geology, archeology, construction, and history of Spectacle Island.  There are public rest rooms and a small lunch counter, where you can purchase sandwiches, salads, and various goodies.  For a family picnic, bring your own coolers, but remember that Spectacle Island is “green”.  You must bring back any waste or trash to the mainland.

     The porch and patio areas at the Visitors Center are large.  Sitting in the Adirondack chairs and rockers with a book on the shaded porch, while looking at the skyline, is about as good a way of spending an hour or two as can be found.

     The Park Service provides an added treat on each Sunday through Labor Day weekend.  From noon until 3 p.m., jazz is performed on the shaded porch by the David Ehle Guitar Trio Plus.  Last Sunday, David played lead guitar with Stephanie Stone (flute, saxophone), Renato Malafavi (drums), and Larry Kukers (bass).

     Spectacle Island is also made for easy hiking.  It was built up using fill excavated from the Big Dig into two large drumlins that are 150 feet high – the highest elevations in the harbor.  Along the entire eastern side of Spectacle, immense dikes and seawalls have been constructed.  The main trail, which is self-guided and handicapped accessible, is 2.5 miles long.  There are approximately 10 miles of subsidiary trails.  The trails have seats and gazebos along the way, where you can sit and enjoy the smashing views in all directions.

     Spectacle Island was completely planted, but now is being left to its own devices.  Purple loosestrife has sprung up, even though that was not planted originally.  White sumacs and balsams are fighting for sunlight – we’ll see who wins.  Pink crown vetch and yellow birdsfoot are providing ground cover.  It would be an interesting student project to track just how the ecology evolves as each year passes.  Spectacle began its rebirth as a completely barren pile of dirt, so there would be a lot to learn.

     There are no visible ground animals on Spectacle, but the few raptors there are living on something.  It may have been imagination, but a faint scent of skunk lingered by one stone wall.  Redwinged blackbirds are common, and a pair of what could have been American kestrels or pigeon hawks (also called merlins) were spotted.  Cormorants are all over the rocks on the east side of the island.  Monarch butterflies feed on the milkweed plants; white sulphurs perform their aerial ballet with no intermissions.

     But the best part of the hiking trails is the panoramic view of Boston Harbor with all its activity.  And there are no mosquitoes or poison ivy to put up with.

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The Spectacle Island Visitors Center, with its large porch overlooking the harbor area and the West Beach.

A Sunday afternoon jazz concert on the porch at Spectacle Island by David Ehle's Guitar Trio Plus. Renato Malavafi, Stephanie Stone, and Larry Kukers, with David (r)

A concert in green - Mother Nature seems to like Spectacle Island.

The half-mile boulder dike that joins the seawalls at either end of Spectacle Island on its eastern side.