Mass Audubon to run three-season nature center in the historic Powder House at Magazine Beach
In a “dream come true” for the restorers of Cambridge’s Magazine Beach, the park’s historic powder magazine will be taken over by Mass Audubon and turned into a three-season facility with free drop-in nature programs, snacks and drinks for park visitors and restrooms for visitors.
Starting in April, the structure will serve as a home for school, family and adult programming on and around the river and as a base for partnerships with local arts, cultural and community organizations running programs at the park, said state officials and local and organizational leaders.
The formal announcement is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Magazine Beach.
“We welcome Mass Audubon. Their coming to the park is a dream come true for us,” said Catherine Zusy, president of the restoration group Magazine Beach Partners. “We have been advocating for the Powder Magazine to become an urban nature center with arts and community engagement since 2016, and now it’s happening. We are grateful to DCR for responding to the community and to Mass Audubon for stepping up.”
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees miles of riverbank along both sides of the Charles, has awarded Mass Audubon a five-year license to the building, for which the 17-acre property is named.
The granite structure went up in 1818 to store gunpowder for the local militia and ships docking in Boston Harbor, Zusy said. (Another name for a place storing ammunition, of course, is a “magazine.”) In 1899 the Olmsted Brothers – the landscape architects behind Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” of parks – converted it into a bathhouse when swimming was a popular pastime in the Charles River. When that use faded in importance after a polio epidemic and with river pollution growing, the parks department converted it into a utility shed in 1953. It deteriorated in the decades since, but restoration efforts began in 2012 as part of work to improve the park as a whole.
The collaboration aligns with a Mass Audubon five-year “Action Agenda” prioritizing partnerships in providing more access to nature for more people, said the organization’s president, David J. O’Neill.
What’s expected was explained in a Mass Audubon video posted Nov. 15:
“Magazine Beach Park is a wonderful example of how an urban green space can offer so much in a small space for the public, including important wildlife habitat in and around the Charles River. This terrific collaboration with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and Magazine Beach Partners will provide unique opportunities for people in the community to spend time outdoors, strengthening connections to the environment,” O’Neill said in a press release. “We are excited to have the historic Powder Magazine building as our home base for Mass Audubon’s nature programming in Cambridge.”
In the Mass Audubon video education coordinator Paul Kelley took a moment to imagine what could be done inside the Powder House. “We’re thinking community events, art galleries, climate cafes – anything to connect the community of Cambridge to this space and increase environmental literacy,” Kelley said.