Park It: Getting to the Harbor Islands

The Harbor Islands pavilion. Photo courtesy of Tim Love.

How do you get people to get beyond the city limits to explore the Harbor Islands? A study in approaches:

1) You design a public space in a central location that’s beautiful, informative, and provides a solid introduction to the history of the park. Or so was the thinking behind the creation of the Boston Harbor Islands pavilion, an interactive exhibit and visitors’ center in the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which opened on Memorial Day. The pavilion serves as a gateway to the islands, says its architect, Tim Love, a Northeastern architecture professor, and it’s a welcome reprieve from the otherwise frenzied tourist outposts that line the harbor. Its thoughtful, open-air design showcases a mix of maps and gorgeous images of the islands and also provides the public a chance to interact with the Park Rangers, who in my opinion are some of the best people on the planet. It provides a bit of that wonder you feel (or at least I feel) whenever you first encounter a National Park. Since the pavilion opened, rangers report that they’ve seen an influx of visitors coming to the islands.

Or …

2) In a move that seems inspired more by Disney than Roosevelt, you gather a horde of Hawaiian-clad ferry employees and have them hover around you as you wait in line for the boats — a line that seems to not move because the employees seem too busy hovering to work inside the ticket booth. Such is the stark contrast when buying a ticket at the Boston Harbor Islands Ferry terminal on the Long-Wharf North pier. On my visit last Saturday, I counted about a dozen employees of Boston’s Best Cruises, a private company that operates ferries to and from Spectacle and Georges Islands, milling about, organizing the lines and trying to help people sort out what ferry to ride. While they were nice enough, that was about four times the number of employees who were actually selling tickets, which led to long lines and frustrated would-be visitors who ended up missing their boats due to the wait. Not helping matters was the fact that two ticket windows weren’t being used, despite the holiday crowds.

Thankfully, the ferry ride and island visit more than made up for the frustrations. Spectacle Island, where I visited, has incredible views, some solid hiking trails, and enough sand to make for an easy afternoon beach outing. Just do yourself a favor and bypass the Hawaiian shirt-clad hordes by booking your tickets online or at the pavilion’s ticket booths. There’s no need to bring a Mickey element to America’s Best Idea.