A day to celebrate the Neponset

Canoe and kayak tours will be part of the fun at Saturday’s Neponset RiverFest.
Canoe and kayak tours will be part of the fun at Saturday’s Neponset RiverFest.

A free, family-oriented festival on Saturday is the latest opportunity to celebrate the dramatic reclamation of Dorchester’s waterfront. Neponset RiverFest, organized by the Neponset River Watershed Association, will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at DCR Neponset II Park (near the Granite Avenue drawbridge).

The park — which is home to a popular water-spray pad and a canoe launch, among other amenities — will be the “base” for the festival. But many of the activities will fan out from the park along the Greenway that cuts through the park — and on the river itself. Visitors can hop aboard a kayak or canoe to paddle the Neponset with borrowed equipment — a great chance to enjoy the neighborhood from a whole new vantage point. There will also be experts on hand from the New England Aquarium and a fishing clinic with folks from Mass Fisheries & Wildlife.

Neponset II Park is so-named because it was the second park created along this stretch of the riverway in the 1990s, following the much-larger 72-acre Pope John Paul II Park.

For decades, the land that is now home to this park was a scrap metal yard that was fenced-off from the neighborhood, effectively blocking Cedar Grove neighbors from seeing or using their river. Next door to the junkyard was an auto-paint store and a tow truck company — more industrial uses that denied riverfront access.

It took many years of advocacy — mainly by groups like the Cedar Grove Civic Association and their political allies— to re-locate those businesses and acquire the land. Once that happened, it took more public resources and many meetings to shape the park, which opened to the public in 2008.

After nearly a decade of use, it’s sometimes easy to forget how much effort and frustration was expended in bringing this parkland — and the related amenities along the river— on line. This weekend’s festival is a fitting moment to pause and take stock of what we have achieved as a community. The reclamation and re-use of the Neponset waterfront stands as perhaps the greatest public improvement in Dorchester in the last 50 years.

In addition to the Neponset River Watershed Association, Saturday’s event is co-sponsored by Department of Conservation and Recreation, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital Milton, Paddle Boston, DOT Smiles, Whole Foods, Cedar Grove Civic Association and the Dorchester Reporter. Bring a blanket and a picnic basket, and spend the day. The entrance to the park is on Hilltop Street near Granite Ave.

For more information, visit www.neponset.org/riverfest

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