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Island Hopping: Boston Harbor Islands
May 30, 2012

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook what’s in our own backyard and miss out on something special. I find this to be the case with the Boston Harbor Islands. Over and over again, I’ll meet lifelong Bostonians---whose families have been in New England for a generation or more---who have never stepped foot on one of the 34 islands that make up the Boston Harbor Islands National Park.

That’s a shame because the islands, just a short ferry ride away from Boston’s shore, offer a plethora of activities, from exploring old forts to swimming to hiking. One island is home to the nation’s oldest continually used light station, which is available for tours. On four of the islands, you can even camp overnight! In recent years, all sorts of special events have made visiting even more compelling.

Probably the best known island is 39-acre Georges Island, home to Fort Warren. The fort, now a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1833 and served by turns as a training ground, a patrol point, and a Civil War prison. You can learn all about it at the visitor center, where a short film is offered, and then explore the fort on your own. In spring and summer, fishing clinics, musical performances, theatrical shows, and even vintage 1860s baseball games played by costumed teams are among the offerings.

On Spectacle Island, one of the islands where you can swim and lifeguards are on duty, activities range from scavenger hunts, jazz bands, clam bakes, fishing clinics, kite-flying workshops, and much more. There are 2.5 miles of easy trails and Spectacle Island offers the highest viewing point of any of the islands, at 155 feet, with some of the best views of Boston to be found anywhere. It's one of my family's favorite islands in the park.

A great introduction to this island, if you haven’t been, is the upcoming second annual Spectacle Island 5K Road Race and Kids Fun Run on June 2. There’s a 5K race, a half-mile Kids Fun Run, or a 3K perimeter walk, plus a post-race lunch for participants, music, and kids' activities. Make sure you pre-register.

You can even drive to some of the islands, which are actually peninsulas or connected to the mainland through beach erosion. World’s End, Nut, Deer and Webb Memorial islands can be visited on your own schedule and all of them have hiking trails, perfect spots to picnic, and wonderful views.

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