Wind, Salt Air Create Adverse Environment for Plantings at New Trail

Aug 01, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

With salty, howling winds and westerly storm conditions, sedge islands aren’t known for being vegetation friendly, but rather are known as a hostile environment for most trees, shrubs and flowers. Maintaining one has proven challenging for Burke Environmental Inc., the landscape design firm responsible for the new Cedar Bonnet Environmental Trail in Stafford Township.

“The shrubs are doing well,” Michael Burke, an environmental consultant with the Wall Township-based company, said recently. “The main issue is wind.”

Trees don’t like heavy winds and the trail, located on the eastbound side of the Causeway, has strong winter-gale winds even in the summer, he said.

“Some of the leaves are stunted,” Burke said, adding the tops of trees in certain areas are losing their leaves due to the naturally occurring wind conditions. “They (state and federal authorities) wanted an instant forest.”

The standard mix of design-seed used by the state Department of Transportation adds to the challenges of maintaining the site, he said. It doesn’t take into consideration the wind and salt air conditions that exist at the site, Burke said.

Among the shrubs and trees planted on the more than 50-acre site are red or Spanish oaks, whose characteristic is to lose their leaves in the fall and re-grow them in the spring. There are also white hickory, nettle tree or common hackberry, sassafras, gray birch, black cherry and Canadian serviceberry, a wildlife-friendly, large deciduous shrub.

The grass seed mixtures include Blackwell switchgrass, red fescues, Virginia wild rye, red top and annual rye. The wildflower seed mixture includes fox sedge, deer tongue, little bluestem, partridge pea, riverbank wild rye, Virginia wild rye, blue vervain, big bluestem, ox eye sunflower and seaside goldenrod.

“Even the rye grass had trouble,” Burke said, noting the grass was planted to help prevent erosion.

The entire trail project for the site is part of the larger $312 million federally funded Causeway expansion and rehabilitation project. Contract five for the project included the environmental mitigation of approximately 7 acres. One acre is wetlands, 2 acres are intertidal/subtidal shallows and more than 3 acres consist of riparian buffer vegetation.

Burke said because the project is also located within the Barnegat Bay watershed, an area of significant ecological and recreational importance to the state, his firm isn’t permitted to use any fertilizers on the trees, shrubs or flowers they planted.

The state DOT worked closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other stakeholders on the $9.6 million federal and state-funded environmental mitigation at the site, which began in early 2015. The work included creating wetlands, mitigation for existing freshwater wetlands and modifications of two existing stormwater basins within the Barnegat Bay watershed.

A dry spring and early summer certainly didn’t help the plantings, though there is an irrigation system in place at the site and a water truck visits at least once a month, according to Burke. The irrigation system includes the same material used in baby diapers, he said. It has made its way back into the agricultural industry, Burke said, noting it was a technology founded when he was at Proctor and Gamble years ago. The cost of using the technology was too expensive then, but the Japanese were able to re-create it and make it affordable for use.

Two irrigation heads were shattered by someone or something, he said, adding the fencing used to keep geese out of the young plantings was also damaged.

“The fencing is weather related,” Keena Graham, visitor services manager for the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, said. “We’ve had no issues with trash or destruction of property. The locals have been extremely respectful.”

Graham said the trail is extremely popular, and there are at least four cars in the parking lot every hour it’s open to the public. In fact, she said, the refuge’s law enforcement officer regularly sees about a dozen people on site.

“This has been a great addition to the community,” she said, “and we're so happy that there’s a place where people can come together and even do more bird-watching.”

— Gina G. Scala

(Photo by: Ryan Morrill)
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