Spectacle Island, Boston, MA

Spectacle Island, part of the Boston Harbor National Recreation Area, was home to a horse rendering plant and a city waste incinerator from 1857 to 1937.  When the incinerator closed, the island served as a landfill until 1959.  Though the island’s original size was approximately 49 acres, landfilling increased its size to 85 acres (with an additional 28 acres in the intertidal zone).  It remained largely unchanged until the 1990s, posing some risk to public health because it lacked the landfill systems to prevent leaching into Boston Harbor.  Benefiting from the Big Dig—the decades-long relocation of Boston’s Central Artery to below-ground tunnels—the landfill was finally capped with excavated clay in 1992 and covered with topsoil, 2,400 trees and 26,000 shrubs.

After almost 15 years of environmental clean-up, the park on Spectacle Island opened to the public in 2006.  It features five miles of hiking trails, a popular swimming beach, fishing, a marina with 38 public boat slips, a cafe and visitor center with solar panels, composting toilets and graywater recycling.  Hundreds of fish and bird species now live at the site.  The National Park Service, which operates the park, organizes jazz concerts, children’s programming and guided tours around the island and up to its 157-foot summit.  Visitors catch a 15-minute ferry to and from downtown Boston.

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