Sherwood Island Dune Restoration Takes Root

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.

Michele Sorensen, at the start of the dune restoration project.

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.

The dune restoration project, last August.

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.

Jackson Cregan, hard at work.

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.

Friends Garden Team members Heather Williams (Westport Shellfish Commission) and Westporter Barrie Holmes, with hundreds of plantings.

7 responses to “Sherwood Island Dune Restoration Takes Root

  1. Many thanks to all who worked so hard to accomplish this!

  2. Robert and Julie Fatherley

    Couldn’t be more gratified with dune and grass restoration at Sherwood
    Island: not just erosion control but also habitat enhancement.
    Bob and Julie Fatherley

  3. The power of one can truly change the world. A great effort. So nice to see those grasses on my walks on Sherwood Island and to know they make a difference ecologically and environmentaly. A job well done. Thank you Michele and your team

  4. Another excellent example of how local concern, talent, expertise, vision and determination can make an enormous impact. Thank you for your collective efforts. Perhaps it will become an example for others.

  5. Donald Bergmann

    This is super. I wonder if it has relevance to Compo Cove or even Old Mill Beach. Compo Cove has struggled dramatically with erosion and, so far, not successfully. I will be contacting a friend there, our Conservation Director, Alicia, Mozian, and our P&Z Department under Mary Young.

  6. It has been a lot of fun to work and learn alongside Michele as she continually teaches other volunteers. She is chock full of information on pollinators and has shown such dedication to the park, it’s habitat and waters. I’m very honored to know her. Please check out the Friends of Sherwood Island – Garden Team if you’d like to get involved.

  7. Robert M Gerrity

    From Outside Looking IN (from Oregon): To save a sand dune, takes a team. Michelle and her helpers on this project represent the BEST of what I learned growing up in Westport. Teacher and Inspirer she is. Not simply environmental enhancement but Life Enrichment. Thanks to ALL. Now can we bottle this ethos and spread it around? A ’66 Wrecker.