Monday, December 4, 2017

Ask and ye shall... sometimes get really lucky

By Beth Sullivan
If you have followed this blog, or read through the website or newsletters, you will know that I have spent a lot of time and energy working at Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve. These two preserves, together, create a gem of a space in Stonington Borough that many people don’t even realize is there.
Tucked at the end of Wall Street, it is the last significant open green space in the borough featuring waving grasses and spectacular water views. It is also probably the most studied, most time consuming, most beloved, and most frustrating piece of property Avalonia owns. It is a compact example of a huge problem: the effects of climate change such as sea level rise and ever more powerful storms. In just the last five years we have seen several hurricanes, winter storms, historic rainfalls, and summer droughts challenge this already fragile spot.
The small area has quite a diverse set of habitats and ecosystems. It has immediate direct ocean front exposure and small sandy pockets, as well as rocky shore and tide pools. There are areas of renewed and regenerating salt marsh, as well as areas that are often flooded by fresh water, rain runoff from storms and Borough streets. A large portion is more upland meadow-a small, but unique grassland with some shrubs growing in. It also has a greater share of invasive plants than any small parcel should host. All in all though, it is an amazing, beautiful spot, a great place to observe so many natural changes. All of which are being impacted severely by the changing climate.
Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve make up the last open green space in Stonington Borough. Photograph by D. Boyle.

As recently as 2006, the Preserve was dry enough to mow and Phragmites were contained to the most wet areas. Photograph by J. Callahan.

By 2012 the Phragmites had filled the area.

We could never accomplish such tasks without DEEP assistance.

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy changed the landscape and the drainage forever.  You can read more here, here, and here about Dodge and Beal. Since that time I have been writing about the research and work we are doing there to try and preserve the preserve. As a volunteer with no professional background in the complex issues at hand, I am gaining experience rapidly. I am truly lucky to have some great resources who have helped, mentored, educated and worked alongside me there and have made a huge difference.
We have received major assistance from CT DEEP in their continued efforts to keep drainage open, to help create an environment where a healthy salt marsh could re-establish and diminish the mosquito population. They also wage the battle on the invasive plants that threaten to overtake everything!
Several years ago, with the Mystic Aquarium leading the charge, we were the beneficiaries of a big grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). This got the community involved in studying the conditions there and planting native vegetation to give Mother Nature a boost at restoring the landscape once the Phragmites were removed and water flow established. We have had student groups, from elementary age to college, working to help plant, clear, clean and study. We have had graduate students and their mentors from New England Wildflower society studying the vegetation and providing seeds to help us restore natives as well.

New grant award

Now, once again, we have been supported and rewarded with another big grant. I am thrilled to be able to let everyone know that because of the efforts and energies of CT Sea Grant Program, and extension educator Dr. Juliana Barrett, we will be the beneficiaries of another Long Island Sound Futures Fund grant from the NFWF. We made so much progress with their previous support, that when this new application crossed their desks, they were willing to give again, to support the work we have accomplished.
With this grant, and with the oversight and guidance of Dr. Barrett who will administer the grant, we will have the funds to finally get a professional engineering study done to assess what is the best way to protect the south shore from the ravages of storms and surges. Decades ago, no one recognized or truly anticipated the changes we are experiencing now. The hope is that this will give us a guide to follow for the next decades to come. She will help me revise the management plan for the preserve, to reflect these changes since the plan was first written 5 years ago. With new plans in hand, hopefully we will find support and funding to execute them.
We will also get assistance with planning and restoring the area that was formerly Mrs. Beal’s garden. We have to somehow reclaim the land and have decided that a bigger area of native plantings would be beneficial for the area and wildlife, can help filter water run-off , and also serve as an educational opportunity for people who visit. There will be growing numbers of residents along the coast who will be affected by rising waters and their homes’ garden landscapes will be impacted.
I honestly believe that asking for help is the only way to make big things happen. But just as important is following through and showing your donors and benefactors that you will make the best use of their support.
Ask, and you may receive. Just be sure to be thankful and follow through.
Previous grants provided funds for plantings and educational signage.

Juliana Barrett will administer the new grant but will also be by my side working in the field.

The restored Paddock will be healthy and even more beautiful.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise noted.

You can find out more about the Avalonia Land Conservancy here.

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