A new pilot project aims to provide a little stabilization, and an unusual form of holiday cheer, down the shore.
And Morristown is leading the yuletide charge as the state Department of Environmental Protection's "Christmas Tree Dune Stabilization Project" prepares to get underway at Island Beach State Park, one of the hardest hit areas during Superstorm Sandy in October.
Morristown First Lady Mary Dougherty was first made aware of the project through a state DEP Facebook post. She then went to her husband, Mayor Tim Dougherty, who requested permission from Town Council Tuesday for the town's Department of Public Works to haul the town's discarded Christmas trees down to the project location later this week.
The project will install the retired Christmas trees in several specific locations at the park, on their side and end-to-end, then secured in place in a manner similar to dune fencing. A small amount of sand will be placed on the trees with anticipation that blowing winter winds will accumulate additional sand and cover the trees.
In the spring, provided the project has been successful and the dunes are stable, the areas can be planted with dune grass. Over time the trees will biodegrade faster and safer than traditional treated lumber posts, according to a press release issued by the town this week.
"The entire mid-Atlantic coast suffered great loss of natural resources as a result of Hurricane Sandy," Mary Dougherty wrote in the release. "Oceanfront sand dunes are a vital resource which provide habitat for wildlife and as importantly, they are the front line resistance that protect our communities and natural resources from devastation of storms like the one we just experienced. Areas with healthy dunes suffered significantly less loss than areas with compromised or nonexistent dune systems. Unfortunately, as part of the protection process dunes often become a 'sacrificial lamb' absorbing the energy produced by the wind and waves. Many dunes along the east coast were sacrificed and are in need of restoration. This holds true for the dune systems at Island Beach State Park which is home to one of the most extensive dune systems in New Jersey."
The Christmas Tree Dune Stabilization Project is only one of numerous methods of restoration expected to be used. Additional methods include the installation of dune fence, planting of dune grass, simple protection of critical habitat and some limited mechanical building.
“It’s a wonderful project, which will assist to protect our beaches, build new dunes and support our beaches which have been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy,” she added in the press release.
"It's a great project, and we are the first municipality to volunteer our Christmas trees," Tim Dougherty said Tuesday, noting the trees otherwise would be mulched. He thanked his wife, who was away on a business trip Tuesday, for her initiative on the project.
A statewide post-Sandy "Day of Service" is scheduled for Jan. 19 throughout New York and New Jersey, including for anyone interested in helping to plant the Christmas trees at Island Beach State Park.