By Ginger DeShaney
With a $75,000 grant from the city of Boston’s Community Preservation Act, Friends of the Boston Harborwalk has installed eight interpretive signs around Castle Island and Pleasure Bay.
The signs include information about the history of the site, the lagoon, harbor vessels, and even birds, said Liz Nelson Weaver, a volunteer with the Friends group.
“We had a sense going into the project of what the really important stories were to tell at Castle Island and Pleasure Bay,” said Liz, who wrote the grant application. “And we always wanted it to be a mix. We didn’t want it to be just maritime industry stories.”
There are so many other things that have happened along the waterfront or that are connected to the waterfront, she said, that it’s a rich mix of stories.
“This marks the first time anything will be in place capturing the history and present-day amazingness of this very special place,” Liz said.
Friends of the Boston Harborwalk received a Boston CPA grant in 2021 to cover the cost of the design, manufacture, and installation of the signs. Boston Harbor Now, a financial partner with the Friends group, handled the grant money.
The signage committee of the Friends of the Boston Harborwalk is an all-volunteer group that has a deep interest in history, ecology, and various other topics, said Liz, who is retired but always had careers in writing and development. The committee often works in partnership with historians and signage is always reviewed by historians before production. One of the new signs is about the Native American presence on the islands so the committee worked with the Massachusett Tribal Council.
The signage committee – Liz, Jan Engelman, Steve Landrigan, and Dan Bailey – does all the research and writing and identifies the images pro bono.
The Friends of the Boston Harborwalk creates a master plan for each neighborhood after doing a deep dive into their history. The group gets a sense of which stories should be told where … “You’re here; this is what happened here,” Liz said.
Since early 2017, the Friends group has installed 42 signs.
Liz said it’s been really interesting watching people stop and read the signs. “I almost always walk up to them and identify myself and explain our connection to it. People are just really enthusiastic. They do stop, they do read them. Most people who live here and the many, many visitors to the area, they’re just very engaged.”
Liz said it was important that the Harborwalk, which is 43 miles long, be branded with signage that is consistent in the quality of information and the design.\
“So we just felt really strongly – and we talked to the BPDA folks about it – that there should be a consistent look for the signs,” she said, and a sense that this is all the same space.
“It just felt really important to connect people with that piece of the city’s history and to engage them in the harbor,” Liz said. “We’re trying to bring all that to life.”
Each sign has a QR code sticker that connects to a companion website, where there is Spanish translation as well as audio recordings done in partnership with the Perkins School for the Blind.
Two years ago, Friends of the Harborwalk started gathering letters of support for the grant application, getting great response from City Councilors Ed Flynn and Michael Flaherty, the Castle Island Association, the South Boston Historical Society, DCR, other groups, and residents.
“It’s such a beautiful place,” said Liz. “It’s such a popular place that it just felt like a really important spot in which to engage people with the past and the present.”