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The Importance of Protecting Our Sand Dunes - July 25, 2010

The Importance of Protecting Our Sand Dunes Image

I started early – Took my dog –

And visited the Sea –

Emily Dickinson was fond of sand dunes and salty air. So am I. Clearly, so are many other people. Ocean City welcomes over 8 million people each year. Millions more visit Assateague Island each summer, enjoying either Assateague State Park or Assateague Island National Seashore, or both. 

The sand dunes in Ocean City and on Assateague Island are iconic. They serve as the backdrop for family photos, weddings, reunions, bonfires, and memories of summer vacations for generations of beachgoers.

Dunes are part of a delicate system which protects marshes, land, and the coastal bays behind the islands. They help to soften the effects of high water, winds, and waves. Dunes also help to protect local businesses, jobs, and the tourism economy - which Ocean City’s Mayor Meehan credits as the backbone of the local economy. Tourism in Worcester County generates more than $800 million to Maryland’s economy.

This year, the federal government allocated nearly $4 million for beach replenishment in Ocean City and $800,000 for Assateague Island. Beach Replenishment funds, secured with the help of Senator Barbara Mikulski, stabilize dunes, protect businesses and private properties, and sustain jobs. Dunes also protect terrestrial habitat and our coastal bays. Long Term Stabilization funds, secured for the north end of Assateague Island, help preserve valuable habitat for wildlife including the piping plover.

The dunes in Ocean City extend from the north end of the Boardwalk at 27th Street to the Delaware state line. They were constructed to protect the land and people in Ocean City from damaging effects of storms such as hurricanes and Nor'easters. These storms bring high winds, heavy surf and flood surges. Constructed of 3.5 million cubic yards of sand dredged from offshore areas, the dunes were first completed in October 1991.

In recent years, the Town of Ocean City has institutionalized programs to assist homeowners and businesses reduce nutrient and sediment loading into the bays through a variety of activities including marsh & dune plantings. The Town also established an effective Dune Patrol program.

According to Gail Blazer, Environmental Engineer for the Town of Ocean City, “the Dune Patrol is a volunteer corps that cleans up assigned dune areas.  The Town can't emphasize enough our appreciation for their efforts.  We don't have the entire Town covered - so temporary volunteers are always welcome. We ask them to target areas not assigned a permanent Dune Patrol volunteer.  The program is such a success that we have started a Wetland Patrol group, modeled after the Dune Patrol program.” 

Beachgoers can help out by putting trash in containers on the beach or taking it with them when they leave.

And please, always obey the "Keep off the Dune" signs.

It is important for people – and their pets –  to stay off the dunes to prevent damage to the plants that grow there. The grasses and delicate plants that grow on dunes help to stabilize them under incredibly harsh conditions. However, walking over the plants can often kill them, leaving the dunes more susceptible to collapse.

Ranger Bill Yates urges Assateague State Park visitors to “help protect the dunes. Dunes are nature’s fortresses – but are as fragile as they are beautiful.”



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