“Open the Beach!” Residents Fed Up Over Boston Piping Plover Closure

Life’s a beach, and yet we’re barred by red tape from so many of them every summer in Massachusetts because of a stupid little bird.

Don’t get me wrong—the Piping Plover is a cute, cuddly avian character,  beloved for centuries by so many: beachgoers in New England… hunters in Mexico… first-class diners on the RMS Titanic

MassWildlife, the state agency which determines how pleasantly you spend your summer, has given the okay for South Boston to allow beach access, previously fenced off for the sake of the Piping Plover.

But Mayor Michelle Wu’s Environmental Department is refusing to reopen the L Street beach in South Boston until certain measures are taken. First, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, head of Boston’s Conservation Commission, needs to return from the “net zero economies” climate conference she flew off to in London.

The reverend’s prior experience, by the way, includes working as a “Minister for Ecological Justice” and a “Faith Fellow” for Boston’s Green Justice Coalition.

Once the Rev. White-Hammond returns, the Conservation Commission will gather to vote on a “beach management plan,” whatever that means. As of now, that vote is scheduled for July 19.

But don’t let White-Hammond or anyone else tell you you’re a feathered-friend murderer when you prop up your umbrella or head to the beach for a round of spike ball with the boys.

The Piping Plover is not an endangered species, nor is it threatened. It is officially classified as “Near Threatened.” Allow me to translate. The Piping Plover population is NOT threatened. It’s still increasing.

And even if the Charadrius melodus were that close to meeting its maker like the dodo or the great Auk before them, how much difference would the allocation of one block of urban beach in the middle of Boston as a no-go zone make?

I’m not a “qualified shorebird monitor,” so I guess I cannot answer that question. Yes, you read that correctly.

A parameter of this beach management plan is hiring someone on the taxpayer’s dime to “regularly monitor the presence of the Piping Plover.” Sounds like a decent gig to me, even better than the old job of “clam inspector” in the City of Revere.

Having been a resident of South Boston for almost a year, I had a feeling the normalcy (and the lack of widespread central air) relative to other Boston neighborhoods would prompt an alternative public opinion on the L Street beach reopening. I was right.

Even a gaggle of yuppies too cool to partake in my Southie man-on-the-street interviews swiveled back with a “Wait…yes!” when they caught the tail-end of my question:

“Should they reopen the beach behind the L Street Bathhouse?”

The $32-million newly renovated Curley Community Center reopened to the public on June 10 after a three-year shutdown. The beach behind “the L,” however, has been reserved for the Piping Plover’s mating season which, according to one informed passerby, has passed.

“We’re depriving the public of the beach for birds,” he e[;aomed. “[White-Hammond] should be taking care of business here. It’s the height of the summer, and you’re denying people access to the ocean?”

An employee of the government-subsidized gym explained that although it will give him and his colleagues more work to do, he still thinks the beach should be re-opened.

“The way it was before, we would just corner off one area where the birds would be. I don’t know why they shut the whole beach down.”

A female duo slid into their stereotype, deciding the beach should remain closed for the sake of the Piping Plover. “Aw, save it for the bird then!”

When I informed people why White-Hammond had flown the coop to London, their demeanor changed. Clearly, I had used a sacred buzzword: “climate conference.”

 “Well, that’s good, I guess?” one said. Another replied slightly more tongue-in-cheek.

“Good for her, huh? Wouldn’t I like to be in London for a climate conference!”

All in all, the resounding Southie response was that the beach should be open to the public—the human public.

“People are in stress. The beach is free. This is the only place in the country where they built waterfront property for low-income housing,” one man contributed after his workout at the L. “This place has a very intense racial history, so anything you can do to bring people back into the fold…is wonderful.”

“The birds and nature will take care of them-damn-selves,” he added.

Another beach enjoyer responded similarly.

“I hope [the Piping Plover] mates and lives a long time and has a lot of kids and stuff. I feel like [the shorebird monitor] is a waste of taxpayer money. Birds mate naturally, so a bird sees a bird and they’re gonna get together and do their thing.”

One pedestrian spoke with broken English, but his message was clear. “People have to open the beach so people enjoy the life, so people be happy.”

Mayor Wu told the Herald she is hopeful that section of Southie beach might partially open next month.

One Southie resident was less confident. “Gosh, who knows!” she replied when I asked her to guess an opening date. “It took years for them to do the renovations, so when do I think (it’ll be reopened)? Who knows!”

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