Monday, May 27, 2019

Spring has arrived at Dodge Paddock

By Beth Sullivan
It seems that there are some areas that take longer than others to green up in the spring. Salt marshes are like that. Besides being close to the colder water of the Long Island Sound, Dodge Paddock is still recovering and in the process of changing. But it is getting green.
It has been six and a half years, more or less, since Hurricane Sandy ripped through Dodge Paddock, dumping debris, inundating everything with salt water, and altering the landscape forever. There are some things we, as humans stewards, could do to help restore the area, but others are pretty impossible. However, in the years since then, we have done our best to enhance and restore a lovely small bit of green in the Borough.
You can catch up on past projects by reading articles and past blogs on line. Our first post about Dodge Paddock is here Over these last years we have been granted several rounds of funding to help with restoration, and have been very lucky to have been supported and guided by some of the best scientists/ academics/environmental brains in the industry. With the help of the CT DEEP we have been able to control and nearly eradicate the Phragmites that created an invasive monoculture to the exclusion of everything else, including wildlife.
Wonderful new wildlife enjoys the restored marsh area in Dodge Paddock. Photograph by Rick Newton.

An engineering study may help us know if we can protect this area.

New areas of marsh are becoming established in sheltered areas.

The high storm surges beat at and erode the dune frontage.

Water tables keep getting higher throughout the preserve. 

A start with native grass

With grant funding and assistance from the Mystic Aquarium we were able to fill the now-open areas with native plants. Thousands of native Spartina grasses were plugged into the marsh mud and have now filled it in, creating a more natural expanse that is inviting to native wildlife. The neighbors continually report their sightings of new birds and mammals making use of the Preserve.
Another round of grant funding helped restore plants that we hoped would anchor the berm or dune at the south facing frontage. While some of them are doing well, the forces of the water, rising seas, and bigger storms continue to eat away that area. While new areas of marsh are establishing themselves behind the rocky outer areas, the bigger storms continue to surge in and erode the front and sides of the drainage channel. It is inevitable that some big storm will further breech that area, and we are continuing to get advice from DEEP, environmental agencies, engineers, and others as to the best way to proceed in the face of this challenge.
In this most recent round of grant funding from National Fish and Wildlife Federation’s Long Island Sound Future’s Fund, we continued to explore our options. Under the guidance of CT Sea Grant scientist and educator, Juliana Barrett, we collaborated with an engineering firm to give us baseline thoughts about the best way to preserve this area. There are many scenarios and multiple levels of options. A true engineering study and detailed plan will take a big grant to fund. Then implementation will be enormous. We are not at all sure what route we will go. There are those scientists that still believe that no matter what we do, Mother Nature will march on, and the best thing for us, any of us along the shore, to do is to adapt and make ourselves and our land more resilient.
The holes filled with water before the plants went in. Photograph by Jim Sullivan.

Volunteers dug more than 100 holes.

The water's rising

The second part of this most recent grant addresses the idea of resiliency and marsh migration. The waters are rising in the Paddock, the ground water rises as well. The plants are changing from meadow grasses to salt marsh grasses. Many of the old trees have already died. The shrubs that are growing up are those that can tolerate the salt and wet roots. In an effort to experiment and educate, we have taken Mrs. Beal’s once productive vegetable garden and turned it into a marsh migration buffer planting. The plants were researched with great care; however, the conditions of the area are extremely challenging. Just a few weeks ago we put in a large number of plants, from grasses, to perennial flowers, to shrubs and some small trees, all of which we hope will survive there. It is an experiment, but one that we hope will educate us as well. We will label the plants and keep track as they adapt. It is not going to be a garden. Weeds will grow and the plants will need to compete as they would in a more natural setting. Of course we will offer some TLC as we can.
For those visitors who come to enjoy the area, it can offer some guidance about plantings in ones’ own coastal property. It looks a little rough right now, but already we are watching the plants adapt to the very high levels of water in the ground. Over the seasons and the years, we hope these plants will demonstrate their ability to be resilient.
I guess that is something we all need to learn as we face the challenges of the changing climate.
The former vegetable garden now has native plants to fill in and adapt to their changing habitat. Photograph by Juliana Barrett

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise noted.  

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