Reprinted from the Tideland News.
EMERALD ISLE — Volunteers in Emerald Isle recently completed the first phase of what they hope will become a major public-private effort to rebuild and protect the crucial oceanfront dune system.
According to Kevin Geraghty, a town resident and co-organizer of the effort, the project started with the planting of 1,500 sea oat seedlings at The Point, the south end of the island at Bogue Inlet, on town-owned property. But the goal is to spread the work, where needed, to private property next spring.
The idea, according to Geraghty, came from Carla Stevens, who for more than a year has been worried about the integrity of the primary dunes, which serve as the line of defense against the encroachment of the ocean, especially during hurricanes, nor’easters and other storms. Beach re-nourishment projects over the years have replenished the sand on the strand, but generally don’t do much to protect the dunes.
Stevens said the project is intended to do more than just rebuild the dunes, though. “We also want to raise community awareness of the importance of our dunes in protecting our beaches, and to showcase Emerald Isle as an environmentally-friendly community that is taking steps to protect its beautiful beaches,” she said.
“The interest in this initiative has been encouraging, with many residents offering to volunteer their time for this initial Point project,” Stevens added. “Because of the predicted incoming storm with high winds, the planting time was moved earlier than originally scheduled.”
Stevens and her husband, Tom, were joined a couple of weeks ago by Geraghty, Paul Schwartz, Louise Ehrenkaufer, Lynn Wilson, Rose Ann Hayes and Gwen Hewitt to plant the seedlings. Bob Townson kept them watered and Brad Styron printed the signs that warn beach-goers to stay off the dunes and remind them to clean up after their pets.
The town also pitched in by paying for the plants, Geraghty said. Town Manager Frank Rush recommended starting at The Point.
The problem there, according to Geraghty, is that strong winds blow sand up the beach and onto the town ramp. Planting the vegetation should collect that sand at the dune line, thus serving two purposes: keeping the ramp from getting buried and building the dunes.
In the meantime, Geraghty said, Stevens talked to the man who sold them the sea oats, and he said the best time to plant them is mid-April to mid-May. The group decided to complete the Point “pilot” project and spend the next year talking to private property owners and signing up more volunteers to do the labor.
“Several oceanfront homeowners have asked for their properties to be considered for 2016,” Stevens said. “For them, erecting sand fences this year is a good first step.”
“The Save the Dunes Initiative” will prioritize plantings to include the town and homeowners’ associations, followed by plantings at individual homeowners’ oceanfront properties, depending on the availability of resources and volunteers.
Rush said the town was very grateful for the work at the Point, and appreciative of people’s desires to preserve and enhance the dunes. The planted sea oats should help preserve new dunes that are already forming at the Point, and any additional work elsewhere along the oceanfront will be beneficial, too.
“We’re really in pretty good shape with the dunes in most places, and we’ve had some private property owners who have done some great things on their own,” he said. “We hope that this effort – with volunteers to do the labor – will inspire others who have not done much to make some improvements, too.”
The costs for the planting project includes purchasing sea oats for 55 cents each, delivered, with a minimum order of 300 plants, slow release fertilizer and signs. Projects will be paid for by those responsible for the properties: the town of Emerald Isle, the associations, the property owners and any other private citizens who choose to participate.
Stevens said she anticipates that many other volunteers will be needed and will be trained through hands-on participation in planting projects, with feedback from others who are knowledgeable in ocean dune preservation.
For more information or to sign up to help, call Stevens at 252-764-2160 or Geraghty at 919-697-7636.