A year ago, Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast, demonstrating once again the power of nature. It left behind $65 billion in damage affecting 24 states and 70 national parks.
Sandy’s fury was also a reminder of the power of nature’s ecological services, including the ability of wetlands, beaches, underwater grasses, and other natural assets to soften the blow by attenuating energy and absorbing flood waters.
Fortunately, National Park Service (NPS) and Department of Interior (DOI) officials get it. On October 29, DOI Secretary Sally Jewell announced grant awards from a competitive application process and funded 45 projects to restore shorelines to help cope with storm surge impacts, including $24.9 million to restore Dyke Marsh, on the Northern Virginia shoreline of the Potomac River. Secretary Jewell also invited proposals for more science-based, coastal resiliency projects along the Atlantic Coast.
These funds come just in time for Dyke Marsh, which is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, one of the most-visited national park sites in the country, offering numerous recreational opportunities for D.C.-area residents. Sadly, one and a half to two acres of wetlands are vanishing from the marsh every year, a rate so severe that U.S. Geological Survey scientists estimate Dyke Marsh will be gone in ten to 20 years. Sand and gravel mining reduced what was once 200 acres of emergent marsh to 83 acres and destabilized the whole system, spurring the loss of another 23 acres. Today fewer than 60 acres remain.
With these restoration funds, NPS can stabilize two miles of shoreline—i.e., stop the bleeding—and restore 150 acres of marshland, giving the preserve and surrounding communities more resiliency against future storms.
Dyke Marsh is the last large tract of freshwater tidal marsh along the Potomac River. In 1947, naturalist Louis Halle called this marsh “the nearest thing to primeval wilderness in the immediate vicinity of the city.” In 1959, Congress recognized its significance when it added the wetland complex to the national park system, “so that fish and wildlife development and their preservation as wetland wildlife habitat shall be paramount.” Finally, with work made possible by this funding, Dyke Marsh will soon be restored to its primeval glory.
Learn more about the Friends of Dyke Marsh on the organization’s website.