Since Tropical Storm Irene paid a call, visitors to the beach at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford are met by a jarring reminder of the storm's power.
The boardwalk to the beach is broken and fenced off, but a path through the dunes is still accessible. On the other side, there's a much changed sliver of sand and rock. The storm gouged a 5- to 6-foot high strip out of the dunes behind the beach, and moved a channel into the Goshen Cove wetlands several feet to the west.
"The dunes are significantly eroded," said Brian Thompson, director of the Office of Long Island Sound Programs for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. "I'd like to see some restoration there."
The dune damage at Harkness is one of the more dramatic ecological impacts of the storm locally, but far from the only one. All along the Connecticut shore, Thompson said, sand was lifted from one spot and dumped in another - so much so that it may have changed the shape of the state's coastline slightly.
The reshaping is, of course, a natural process that happens to varying degrees each time there's a nor'easter or other big storm, but Irene's effects were more widespread. Beaches can rebuild themselves over time, but some human intervention to restore some areas may be needed at locations like Harkness and Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, which also had significant erosion, Thompson said.
"Some of the sand on the front side of barrier beaches got carried to the backside," Thompson said. "There's been a lot of sand redistribution."
Large amounts of sand and sediment flowing down the Connecticut River and other waterways were carried into tidal wetlands all along the coast. But that's healthy for the marshes, which serve a critical buffering and flood control function.
"It is a natural infusion of material into the marshes," Thompson said. "As sea level rises (due to climate change), wetlands need sediment input to raise their elevation. This can be a good thing to help them keep up."
Plants and insects
Beyond the shoreline, other effects of the storm can also be seen, said Sharon Douglas, plant pathologist and head of the Department of Plant Pathology at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
The high winds carried aerosolized salt spray from marine waters of the Sound inland up to three-quarters of a mile, she said, burning leaves on trees, shrubs and other plants. Leaves on many of the trees at Harkness, in fact, have fallen off prematurely or are hanging on but are dried, brittle and nearly dead, said Mark Darin, park supervisor.
Douglas said she's received calls about salt spray damage from home gardeners, homeowners with landscape plants and farmers. There are also many trees, shrubs and crops sitting in areas flooded with salt or fresh water, she added. The salt spray can cause defoliation, and the flooding damages root systems.
Kirby Stafford, state entomologist and vice director and the experiment station, urged residents to be particularly vigilant about getting rid of any standing water on their property that has pooled since the storm, because it creates breeding habitat for mosquitoes that can carry West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis.
At Harkness, the changes wrought by the storm have left crews there with some maintenance projects they hadn't planned on, Darin said. The repositioning of the Goshen Cove inlet may mean some of the marsh areas won't get proper tidal inflow unless a large amount of sand is removed from the channel, he said.
"It will ultimately plug and stop flowing," he said, unless corrective action is taken.
The beach, he said, may rebuild itself eventually. In the meantime, the boardwalk will be repaired so that people can more easily access what's left.
"I just ordered the wood," he said. "We should have it fixed in about a week."