Twenty years ago, officials at Sherwood Island bulldozed all their dunes away. They wanted state park visitors to have an unimpeded Long Island Sound view, from the parking lot and concession stand.
It was not a great idea. It affected the coastal wildlife habitat, and lessened the shoreline’s resiliency to rising seas.
Five years ago, Friends of Sherwood Island board member Michele Sorensen wondered how her group could improve the dune habitat. Ecologist Juliana Barrett met Michele and then-park supervisor Jim Beschle on April 5, 2017. She said that to build out the dunes, they had to plant dominant grass before April 15, or after November 15.
That afternoon Michele ordered 800 American Beach Grass culms. She corraled up a small team of volunteers — including 2 grandchildren — to spend 4 days during Easter, planting.
The project has continued ever since.
Every year during Fairfield County Giving Day, the “Friends Garden Team” fundraises to buy plants, tools, signs and supplies. Michele provides a matching grant of up to $1,000. Last February’s effort was the best yet.
Westporter Bill Yaffa — whose company sells erosion control cloth — suggested using it at the park. An experimental sand patch had a 97% success rate (far better than the usual 60-85%). This spring the group will expand the areas they plant in sixfold, using jute cloth.
Since 2019 — when Michele became a University of Connecticut advanced master gardener — she has been assisted by nearly a dozen other master gardener graduates and interns from around Fairfield County, and local helpers like Westporter Lavinia Larsson and Barbara Dahm, now in her 80s.
Barbara’s connection with Sherwood Island dates back to when her parents brought breakfast, lunch and dinner, spending all day at the beach.
Current Staples High School sophomore Jackson Cregan and his father Johannes were key members of last November and April’s plantings too.
Birds, butterflies and many other creatures have taken advantage of the restored dune habitat.
And no one has complained that they can’t see the shore from the parking lot or concession stand.