I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with DNREC Environmental Scientist Jennifer Luoma to talk about the March 17, 2018 Beach Grass Planting. DNREC’s annual beach grass planting initiative has helped Delaware sand dunes over the past several decades by working with volunteers to plant over 5 million stems of Cape American beach grass along the ocean and bay beaches.
Sand dunes provide sustainability and protection against nor’easters, coastal storms and weather events. If we didn’t have sand dunes acting as major sand storage areas, waves would rush inland and flood properties. Each blade of grass helps to trap windblown sand, create new dunes or expand existing dunes. They also provide protection for small animals, birds and their nests.
We discussed the history of the event with Jennifer, including how and why it started. The history behind this decades-old volunteer endeavor is very interesting. Join us for a seaside chat with Jennifer.
Cindy: What is the history of the Beach Grass Planting? When did it start and why? Was it to address a particular need on the beach, and if so, how did this idea come to fruition to address that need?
Jennifer: The annual volunteer beach grass planting began 29 years ago when there was a DNREC initiative to sponsor more volunteer activities. Prior to that Jim Alderman, who was a teacher at Cape Henlopen High School wanted to take his oceanography students out of the classroom and into the field. He collaborated with DNREC and had a couple classes of students take a field trip to Cape Henlopen State Park to plant beach grass on the dunes.
Before the volunteer effort by the students, all the planting was done by the DNREC Beach Crew and the amount of grass planted at that time was minimal compared to what we accomplish today.
C: How long have you personally organized this event?
J: I’ve been involved with the Beach Grass Planting ever since I started at DNREC back in 1998. I have spear-headed this endeavor since 2007. Although not new to this, my experiences with the public have been very positive. The volunteers that take time out of their Saturday morning to come and help strengthen our dunes by planting grass are very valuable to us. They work hard, complain little and are very dedicated.
I would say that out of all of this year’s registered volunteers, over 50% have planted with us before. We have about ten school groups, five Boy Scout troops, eight Girl Scout troops, two 4-H clubs and 17 other community groups registered. The rest of the volunteers are individuals or families.
C: How is planting beach grass able to help our coastline for the future?
J: We have the experience and knowledge to know that a stable vegetated dune is more protective than having no dune at all when it comes to defense against coastal storms.
C: How many people participated in this year’s event, and how many locations were slated for the beach grass planting?
J: When online registration closed on March 9th we had over close to 1100 volunteers registered for the event and added some late registrations. The plan was to plant 150,000 two-stem planting units at 10 sites. This year we planted at:
- Fenwick Island State Park Bathhouse
- Delaware Seashore State Park North
- 3 R’s Road
- North of Inlet
- Faithful Steward
- South of Lifesaving Station
- Conquest Breach
- Key Box Road Crossing
- Dewey Beach
- Cape Henlopen State Park Bathhouse
- Bowers Beach
C: Any last thoughts?
J: Not only do I want to recognize the mass of volunteers who come out to plant grass, but I also would like to give credit to the team leaders for each site. Team leaders typically are other DNREC volunteers from not only the Division of Watershed Stewardship but also from other Divisions of DNREC (Div. Parks and Recreation, Div. of Water, Div. of Energy and Climate and Div. of Fish and Wildlife).
We also get other team leaders from outside of DNREC, like Americorps or the Veterans Conservation Corps. These folks also take time out of a Saturday morning to come to the beaches to teach the volunteers how to plant grass and to oversee the planting at each individual site. Without them, we certainly would not be able to cover the area that we do in one day.
We also would like to thank Giant and Pepsi for donating water and soft drinks for our volunteers. And one more shout out to the Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen, who help by transporting volunteers up and down the beaches to the planting areas when needed and for providing refreshments.
I was happy to take part in this year’s event alongside hundreds of volunteers that helped to plant grass along Delaware’s dunes. If anyone is curious about how difficult this process is, I’d like to mention that it is quite easy.
DNREC advises for volunteers to bring a broomstick or spade, which is then used to create a hole about 10 to 12″ deep in the sand. If you do not have access to a broomstick or blade, they do have a few for volunteers to use, but it is best to arrive early since there is a limited amount available. Volunteers need to space 2″ wide holes approximately 18″ apart in staggered rows, then plant one to two blades of grass in each hole. Remember as you traverse the Delaware beaches this summer, that beach grass has thick brittle stalks that can be easily broken and killed by pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Tell your friends and family about the importance of beach grass and remind them to stay off the dunes!
Thank you for joining us for a seaside chat. We hope you will consider volunteering with any of DNREC’s numerous endeavors to protect and serve our environment. For more information on protecting our sand dunes, please visit Dune Protection and Improvement and Barrier Island/Sand Cycle.