March 8, 2016
Praise for Stone Harbor
Small towns have personalities as varied as the people living within them. Some towns look at their surrounding environment with the eye of a conqueror perfectly happy to destroy open spaces for the sake of short-term profit. Other towns struggle to meet the basic needs of their citizens with inadequate funds and suffer mightily to protect their cherished open spaces. But some towns are blessed with large open spaces and sufficient tax resources to both provide for their people and maintain a beautiful natural environment. People who live in these places usually consider themselves lucky.
Stone harbor is one of these lucky towns, perhaps the luckiest of all. A lovely although vulnerable beach stretches along the Atlantic on one side of the island while a tranquil and seemingly endless marsh dresses the other side. Towne elders fought hard about how to develop this small community and found a happy medium between natural and built spaces. Stone Harbor Point is is the best natural space in the town.
The Point fronts the northern side of wild Hereford Inlet, one of the few remaining natural inlets in New Jersey. It’s shoals and ephemeral islands make for dangerous boating but provide one of the best shorebird habitats in the mid-Atlantic. Besides providing quality nesting habitat for locally breeding shorebirds, arctic nesting shorebirds migrating north or south find it a safe place during high tide. In some lunar tides most of the shorebirds concentrating on Delaware Bay in the spring will use the point as a high tide refuge. With the ravages of unchecked climate change mounting everywhere on the east coast, Stone Harbor Point grows in value.
I only describe all of this to help the reader understand how important the local community is to our vital natural places. Most often we think of the protection of natural place the job of the state or the federal government. All too often, however, the quality of a natural place depends almost entirely on the will of the people that live in the small community in which it occurs. Will they defend the place from greedy developers, inconsiderate bathers, adamant dog walkers, determined joggers or even overzealous birders? How will this change as their economy reels from the unrelenting storms pounding our ocean coasts? This year winter Storm Jonas pounded the Cape May County beaches taking away valuable beach sand placed only recently to overcome the impact of Hurricane Sandy. What will a town do in this situation when every tax payer dollar counts and state and federal provide little but good ideas.
To it’s credit Stone harbor still stands for it’s natural places. And this was no more apparent than in the work we just completed on Friday. Another northeaster plowed into the New Jersey shore on Friday, this time bringing with it snow and icy rain blown horizontal by a 30 knot wind. Still the weather worn Stone Harbor Public Works department lead by Grant Russ, helped us put the finishing touch on the two newly restored habitats on the point.
Most shorebirds nest and roost easier in a beaches with scattered broken shell. It improves nesting success by helping birds camouflage their open nest and on very windy days provides some shelter for roosting birds. The trick is to get the density right. The optimal percent cover is about 10 % and has the look of a natural beach . Last year we used a big front end loader to spread the shell but could only get to 30%. Sprinkling 1 inch shell fragment with a 20 ton front end loader was like sprinkling jimmies on ice cream with an oven mitt.
Craig Reeves and his team used the town’s steer skidder or small tracked front end loader instead. It’s a small insect like machine that could nimbly lay out the shell in just the right quantities. Craig made it look easy but It took most of the day. The wind howled, snow flurries came and went, the tide rose ominously high pushed by the unrelenting northeasterly winds, but the Stone Harbor crew persisted until the job was finished.. Craig said at the days end, “ I could hardly see with all the clam juice and snow on the windshield, but I think I got it right” He did and the birds will be grateful.
Photos by Larry Niles
Craig Reeves sprinkles shell from his skip steer
Nicole Hiles drives SHP's all terrain dump truck
Shell fragments provide some shelter from winter winds
Twenty tons of cleaned shell from Bivalve Packing house
Dunlin and sanderlings brave the strong north-westerly winds to roost to forage on the Point
Whiteout on Stone Harbor Point