boston harbor, spectacle island
DIG THIS : Spectacle Island. The big dig provided topsoil for 2,400 pine, oak, sycamore, and maple trees (courtesy, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority)

Making a Spectacle of Itself

The Big Dig hits pay dirt—in the shape of a new island playground in Boston Harbor

boston harbor, spectacle island
courtesy, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

EVERYONE WHO HAD the misfortune of laying eyes on Boston’s messy Big Dig in the past decade can breathe a sigh of relief now that the largest highway construction project in U.S. history is nearing completion. The highway that split the city has moved underground, but what about the 30 million tons of dirt that were excavated to create the tunnel?

Welcome to new and improved Spectacle Island, reopening June 26 in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. The former smallpox quarantine site, illegal gambling den, and—most recently—city dump finally got a makeover. Workers used 6.3 million tons of excavated dirt to reshape the 121-acre island and provided topsoil for 2,400 pine, oak, sycamore, and maple trees.

The heaping mound creates the highest point in Boston Harbor—a 155-foot hill with expansive views of the city’s skyline—and has a five-mile network of trails leading to rugged, sandy beaches.

Best of all, Spectacle Island can be reached by a 20-minute ferry ride from downtown’s Long Wharf. For park and ferry information and schedules, contact Boston Harbor Islands (617-223-8666,

Although the Massachusetts naturalist and Walden author Henry David Thoreau didn’t have Spectacle Island in mind when he spoke of preserving America’s “wild spaces,” it’s refreshing to see good ol’ Yankee ingenuity at work.

From Outside Traveler 2004
Filed to:
Lead Photo: courtesy, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority

Trending on Outside Online