Dune restoration planned at Walnut Beach

A $7,800 grant will pay to improve a sand dune at Walnut Beach, primarily replacing invasive plants with native ones.

The funds come from the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation’s municipal resilience grant program.

Open Space Manager Steve Johnson and Janet McAllister, newly appointed to the Conservation Commission, worked on the grant proposal.

Johnson said the money will pay for All Habitat, an environmental company, to use a mild herbicide to destroy invasive plants — mostly Japanese Knotweed — that are growing in the dune and blocking views of Long Island Sound. The grant will also pay for beach grass, shrubs, signs and incidentals, like shovels.

The dune is located near the end of Viscount Drive at Walnut Beach, along the boardwalk that attracts walkers and runners in droves.

“The dune already exists,” Johnson told the Board of Aldermen Monday night as they prepared to accept the grant. “We’re just trying to get it better: We don’t have to put any sand in place. The dune just has some of the wrong vegetation.”

All Habitat will treat the invasive plants with an approved herbicide: Johnson said it wouldn’t be wise to just pull out the Japanese Knotweed, which is growing in about 16% of the dune in three patches on the western edge of the project, and other invasives because the root system of those plants helps to hold the dune in place. So the work will take place in phases, he said, with some of the invasive plants being destroyed as beach grass is planted in other areas.

“Fifty five years ago this was known as Myrtle Beach,” according to a project description. “The Myrtle Beach area was a coastal residential neighborhood. Houses and roads once stood where people now visit daily to enjoy the beach and walk along the boardwalk connecting to Silver Sands State Park.”

The project will involve replanting 2,000 feet of barren dune with native beach grass, removing invasive plant species on 2,500 feet of the dune and replanting the areas with native plants.

“Robust public education and outreach efforts will accompany the dune restoration work,” according to the project description. “All dune replanting will be completed by June 2017; most invasive plant management efforts will be completed by this time also, but one follow-up control is scheduled for fall 2017.”

Much of the work is planned for early spring of 2016 and 2017.

Public engagement is a big part of the project and thus calls for recruiting volunteers to help with planting and maintenance, and putting signs along the dune to identify the various plants growing there. The Walnut Beach Association has already agreed to be part of the project and to help recruit volunteers.

Some aldermen, including Bill Bevan, noted that there is sand being stored at Eisenhower Park, which was removed from the shoreline area after Storm Sandy. He wondered if that sand might be used at the beach for the dune project.

Johnson said the sand won’t be needed for this project, but he said that he and Public Works Director Chris Saley have talked about possibly creating another dune one day using that sand.

At the eastern edge of project, the dune tapers off and there is no dune, Johnson said, adding that there is an opportunity to create more dune using the sand at Eisenhower. He cautioned that the sand would have to be tested to make sure it’s usable.

“You’d have to place it, permit it, get it vegetated, but it would be even more protection and more interesting,” he said. “So I’m hoping that can take place, but it is outside the scope of this grant.”