Hurricane Sandy gives the Wetlands Institute reason to rebuild marsh walkway

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Placement of the steel pilings for the new marsh walkway at The Wetlands Institute was finished on March 11. The mesh covering for the gangplanks is expected to begin next week. Placement of the steel pilings for the new marsh walkway at The Wetlands Institute was finished on March 11. The mesh covering for the gangplanks is expected to begin next week. STONE HARBOR – While Hurricane Sandy was devastating, the storm has given The Wetlands Institute an opportunity to rebuild and improve.

Last year, the institute opened its new dock during the Fall Migration Festival. This year, the organization is working on the next phase of rebuilding – a 720-foot-long elevated marsh walkway, complete with new research and education stations.

The original marsh walkway, built in 1987, was 120 feet long, a straight out-and-back wooden structure off the Salt Marsh Trail, said Dr. Lenore Tedesco, executive director.

Super-storm Sandy washed away a section of the original walkway, leaving nearly half the structure unusable. Yet nature’s timing worked out for the institute and fed the momentum of Tedesco’s ‘Plan for the Future.’

“The new marsh walkway will be a long loop that accesses three different marsh habitats,” Tedesco said. “We’ll be able to do better research and education.”

The new walkway will also be more solidly built – with less environmental impact – than the previous structure, she said.

The original walkway was made from pressure treated lumber and elevated to just three feet off the surface of the marsh. The new walkway is a poly carbonate mesh elevated four feet from the marsh.

“It allows light and water to pass through it,” Tedesco said. “Marsh grasses can grow right up underneath the new walkway.”

The old walkway, with its wood pilings, tried to float when it was hit by the heavy storm, Tedesco said. “If we get another big storm, the water will rise over this walkway, then go back down.”

Tedesco said that with its steel pilings and mesh gangplanks, the new walkway will be better for the environment, while allowing the public and researchers easier access to the marsh.

The walkway is in a better location and will provide excellent views of the osprey platform, the salt pannes and flats with all of the wading birds and shorebirds, and a complex of tidal creeks, Tedesco said.  There will be two areas with stairs to allow access to the marsh for research and education. 

The institute is on a tight deadline to finish the walkway. It has to be completed by April 30.

“It is imperative that we finish the rebuilding effort before the osprey return,” Tedesco said. The director has tightened the deadline even more, saying that the walkway will be open in time for Turtle Fest on April 19.

Tedesdo said the walkway will also provide access to a high-precision marsh elevation research station.

“We’re doing research about how the marsh is reacting to climate change,” Tedesco said. “One of the platforms will be able to measure whether the marsh is building up or sinking. That will help us understand what is happening to the sea level, and what is happening to the marsh.”

The station will allow Institute staff to document how the marsh is responding to changing water levels as storms and sea level rise continue to stress the ecosystem, she said.

“Not only will the new walkway offer unparalleled access to the salt marsh for our visitors to enjoy but it will greatly enhance our research and education capabilities,” Tedesco said.

The Wetlands Institute has received a FEMA grant that will cover about a third of the $350,000 it will cost to rebuild the walkway. The next phase of the institute's Capacity Building Initiative will seek donations with naming rights to different parts of the walkway to offset the balance of the cost.

For more information on The Wetlands Institute, call 609-368-1211. 

Placement of the steel pilings for the new marsh walkway at The Wetlands Institute was finished on March 11. The mesh covering for the gangplanks is expected to begin next week. Placement of the steel pilings for the new marsh walkway at The Wetlands Institute was finished on March 11. The mesh covering for the gangplanks is expected to begin next week.


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