ASSATEAGUE — Six months after Hurricane Sandy ravaged Assateague Island, severely eroding beaches and destroying many man-made structures, the barrier island is springing back to life and is largely ready for another summer season, but some reminders of the storm are still present.
The Assateague Island National Seashore took a severe beating when Hurricane Sandy roared through the area in late October with considerable erosion to the beaches, which breached in a few spots, and to the natural and man-made dune line. The front of the dune line sheared off on the ocean side leaving sand fences, railings and other structures completely erased or dangling from their supports in many cases.
The beaches were littered with storm debris including battered sand fences, drift wood, relics from former storms and shipwrecks and most noticeably, old tires. In the 1970s, thousands of old tires were banded together to create an artificial reef off the coast, which seemed at the time to be a good idea, but the reef has broken apart over the decades and the tires are often deposited on the beach at Assateague after storms and Sandy was no different. In the days after the storm last fall, tires could be seen strewn on the beach as far as the eye could see.
Further inland, man-made structures including buildings, parking lots, roads and trails were also destroyed in many cases and the pedestrian-bicycle bridge parallel to the Verrazano Bridge was closed when the asphalt roadway on the island side of the span was eroded to the point it was not safely passable. That path has now been restored, and wild horses have been enjoying the newly planted grass in the area. Additionally, camping areas were flooded and severely eroded forcing Assateague officials to cut short the fall camping season on the barrier island.
In the months since the storm, Assateague officials have worked feverishly to repair the damage to many of the man-made structures, while natural processes have somewhat repaired the damage to the beaches and dunes. Nonetheless, visitors will clearly see evidence of the storm when they return this spring. The barrier island has always been battered by storms and rebounds when left to its natural processes. The island actually migrates several feet each year as storms and high tides wash sand from the ocean beaches and deposit it on the back side. Epic storms such as Sandy this week expedite the process, but the island will naturally recover over time.
With the calendar flipping over to April this week, another summer season is rapidly approaching and despite the unrelenting cold temperatures this year, visitors are already starting to flock back to Assateague and officials are working to ensure their experience will be positive and memorable.
For example, all day-use parking is now open with the exception of the lot associated with the Life of the Marsh trail, which remains closed due to damage from the storm. In addition, all drive-up camping areas are now reopened.
The walk-in camping sites, where visitors park in a designated lot and walk a couple hundred feet to their camp sites remain closed. However, the walk-in camping sites located in the developed areas are expected to reopen on April 15. In addition, the backcountry camping sites are now open.
Two of the three nature trails are now reopened including the Life of the Forest Trail and the Life of the Dune Trail. However, park officials said this week visitors will clearly notice changes in those areas due to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy. According to park officials, the Life of the Marsh Trail will not likely reopen until May 2014.
The Over-Sand Vehicle Zone (OSV) is now reopened, but there are noticeable changes in that area as well. Park officials are recommending visitors check in beforehand on the status of the OSV and the parking areas.
“For example, the western boundary of the OSV has been evaluated and the boundary has been moved further west at pinch point areas to address access,” said Assateague National Seashore Chief of Interpretation and Education Rachelle Daigneault this week. “Drivers must remain east of the black and white posts.”
Old Ferry Landing is now open for those who choose to pursue bayside recreational activities, but again, visitors will notice changes after damage caused by the storm. For example, there is considerably less shade now due to damage to the trees and park officials are recommending visitors bring umbrellas for shade in those areas.
With natural barrier island processes correcting some of the damages, and crews repairing others, the island is close to being ready to receive hundreds of thousands of visitors again this summer. However, park officials are continuing to move toward less permanent structures and more mobile structures.
“Storms like Hurricane Sandy are reminders our goal is to transition to sustainability at the National Seashore,” said Superintendent Trish Kicklighter this week. “Mobile visitor-use facilities that can be moved in advance of storms and park planning that anticipates the impacts of climate change and sea level rise will help us achieve this goal.”