Erosion Main Piece To Assateague Bayside Options

ASSATEAGUE — Assateague Island National Seashore concluded its series of public input workshops last week on finding “a more resilient Bayside Picnic and Parking Area.” While the turnout wasn’t as strong as the National Park Service (NPS) initially hoped, officials noted a high level of enthusiasm from those who did submit comments.

Many of the comments shared common roots, generally with the state of erosion in the area, and all of the questions and concerns submitted will be considered as the process moves forward this fall.

The third and final workshop was hosted last Saturday and had about a dozen attendees. The goal of all three meetings was to document public comment regarding the environmental status of the park. Visitors were asked to “define both the natural and cultural values and characteristics important for protection” of the bayside picnic and parking area at Assateague.

“It was just kind of an idea gathering exercise,” said Liz Davis,   Assistant Chief of Interpretation and Education for the Assateague Island National Seashore. “So out of that, I think that the viable options are going to be identified.”

NPS is focusing on sustainability issues in the area. Bayside erosion is an important concern and one that Davis confirmed is on the minds of visitors. Everyone, from birdwatchers to kayakers to picnickers, had an interest in the effects of natural wear-and-tear. It was interesting to see how each demographic would speak up for the others, according to Davis. That’s exactly what NPS is looking for as it seeks suggestions for long-term sustainability in the bayside area.

“Nothing is off the table. We’d like to hear as many ideas as we can for making this important park day-use area more functional,” said park Superintendent Debbie Darden earlier this spring, “and less susceptible to damage from erosion while safeguarding bird and animal habitat.”

Everyone who took part in the workshops over the last two months seemed invested in improving park sustainability, said Davis. Erosion was the main focus, as several attendees voiced concerns not only with the potential impact on the bayside parking area but with how the nearby road might also be affected.

A lot of the discussion was helpful to the park, according to Davis, and the partnership between visitors and NPS clicked well.

“I think that they were impressed with the process. It was well-received by the visitors that the park service was taking an interest in their concerns,” she said.

Davis admitted some disappointment with the overall turnout but was glad to have 12 attendees at last Saturday’s workshop. In the future she hopes to see more input from the community. All of the ideas that did come from the public will be explored as the NPS heads back to the drafting board this summer. Based on visitor suggestions, the park will be developing “action alternatives” and will be conducting an environmental impact analysis for each of those alternatives. Once viable alternatives are chosen, they will be cycled back for additional public comment.

“We will be asking the public to share their knowledge about this special area with us as a part of the work,” said Chief of Resource Management Bill Hulslander when the process began. “We will gather information from the public, non-profit organizations, and other federal and state agencies to ensure that we understand fully what they value about this popular and important area of the park.”

That effort should be completed by this fall.