December 2011 — A team of Connecticut Audubon staff, volunteers and private contractors are finishing construction this month of 900 feet of newly-created dunes that curve along the beach on Stratford Point’s north cove — the first time a habitat restoration project of that kind has been attempted in Connecticut.
The dunes will provide important new habitat for birds and other wildlife and also help prevent the point from eroding away, a serious concern at a sanctuary that has seen the shoreline recede by 100 feet over the last decade. Stratford Point itself covers 40 acres — 28 upland and 12 intertidal.
In mid-December, our staff led a team of contractors and volunteers in putting the final touches on the project, planting the dunes with 38,000 beach grass and switch grass plants.
The dune construction is particularly important because Stratford Point sits at the mouth of the Housatonic River, in one of the most ecologically rich areas of Connecticut.
Besides the Housatonic estuary itself, which teems with fish, shellfish and seabirds, the area also encompasses the 699-acre Great Meadows salt marsh in Stratford, the 840-acre Charles B. Wheeler Salt Marsh in Milford and Milford Point (Great Meadows and Milford Point are part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge; the Wheeler Marsh is state-owned), and Connecticut Audubon Society’s Coastal Center at Milford Point, which provides access to an extensive network of beach habitat and mudflats.
The dune project is being funded by the DuPont Corp., which owns the property and which, in 2001, protected Stratford Point forever with a conservation easement. All Habitat Services LLC is the contractor for the project.
Under the easement and a management agreement with DuPont, Connecticut Audubon is responsible for ensuring that the site remain undeveloped in perpetuity, that its habitat and conservation values are protected and enhanced, and that the site remains accessible to the general pubic for “ecologically responsible educational activities and recreational activities.”
Three members of our conservation science team are based full-time at Stratford Point, overseeing and carrying out the data-driven management of its coastal resources.
Stratford Point is the site of the former Remington Gun Club; DuPont also funded and oversaw an extensive cleanup of lead that contaminated the site from its days as a skeet shooting range.
While habitat restoration projects in general are fairly common in Connecticut, the Stratford Point work marks the first time dunes have ever been created to provide both stabilization and habitat along the extensive coast of Long Island Sound. A much smaller man-made dune was built on the late Katherine Hepburn’s Old Saybrook estate some years ago to protect a salt marsh.
The foundation of the new dunes are long, geo-textile tubes, like sausage casings. Referred to on the engineering drawings as tube socks, they were stuffed by machine with sand and soil and then covered with more sand and soil by backhoes. The 38,000 beach grass and switch grass plants will help stabilize the dunes, preventing erosion.
Because Stratford Point is open to the public, the dunes will be fenced off temporarily, to allow the plants to take root. Connecticut Audubon will monitor and manage the plantings for at least three years, to ensure that invasive species such as phragmites and ragweed are kept at bay.
Over the longer term, the new dunes and associated beach area may provide nesting habitat for Piping Plovers, which are listed as threatened on both the U.S. and Connecticut Endangered Species Acts; Least Terns (threatened in Connecticut); and several butterflies, rare plants and other conservation concern species.
Although there are no fixed hours, Stratford Point is open to the public for birdwatching and other passive activities when staff is on the site, which generally is 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Connecticut Audubon sends its thanks to DuPont, and also to The Nature Conservancy and Sacred Heart University for their support of the project.