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The Boston Harbor Islands--From Landfill To National Park

  • Yi Suli

Boston Harbor, in the northeastern state of Massachusetts, is one of the busiest seaports on the east coast of the U.S. Dotting the harbor are a number of islands with a rich history of pirates, shipwrecks and wars. The Boston Harbor Islands are a national park and boast one of the oldest lighthouse sites in the U.S. VOA's Elaine Lu narrates.

The Boston Harbor Islands are a source of natural beauty and wonder, offering visitors a spectacular vantage point to appreciate the skyline of downtown Boston. The 34 Boston Harbor Islands were designated Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area in 1996.

Bruce Jacobson, the superintendent of the National Park Service, oversees a small staff running an area of 129 square kilometers. "(We have a) year-round staff of four people including myself. We have a very small presence here."

Knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers with the organization "Friends of Boston Harbor Islands" guide visitors through the islands' history. Steve Marcus is chairman of the group. "(We have) about 400 members and somewhere between 50 and 100 regular volunteers," he says.

Within sight of one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the U.S., the Boston Harbor Islands offer visitors a recreational escape during the summer months.

Susan Marsh founded the "Friends of Boston Harbor Islands" in 1979. She says the islands touch people in many ways. "They can mean so many different things to people. For some people, it is history, or as other volunteers, have that personal connection with the military history."

Seventy-nine-year-old John Forbes says he volunteers because it makes him feel young. "I feel coming out here gives me a good, young attitude. I meet interesting people. I'm not sitting at senior citizen group talking to elderly people."

Forbes takes visitors to the island chain's lighthouse four days a week. "There are people who travel all over the country - or the world - visiting lighthouses. And I tell them once you come to Boston Light, you do not have to go any further because you have been to the best."

Located on Little Brewster Island, Boston Light is probably the most photographed lighthouse in the U.S. Originally built in 1716, it is also the oldest lighthouse site in the U.S. On a clear night, Boston Light's 100,000 candlepower beacon can be seen 43 kilometers away. Standing on the rocky shore, Boston Light has been guiding ships for nearly 300 years.

Some volunteers are here for very personal reasons. Kate Rivera is one of them. "This is the picture of my father," she points out. "This is my father on the left side."

Three generations of Rivera's family lived on Spectacle Island between 1929 and 1955. A volunteer says it’s like paradise. "It was wonderful. People had gardens. Food gardens, vegetables, flowers, it was like living in the city and coming to paradise."

Rivera's entire family left the island in 1955 when the island became a landfill. "My grandfather was sad. All the kids were sad." Twelve years ago, after Spectacle Island was reclaimed for public recreation, Rivera returned as a tour guide.

"I am definitely the eyewitness to the development, the use of the island and the abuse of the island, the misuse. And this amazing reclamation. And it is available for people to come and be as happy as I was here when I was a kid."

For those who visit, the Boston Harbor Islands are a natural wonder and continue to be a rich part of American history.