Stratford, CT – Connecticut’s coastline has received an exciting refresh: After years of planning and fundraising, 34 acres of salt marsh salt marsh
Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.
Learn more about salt marsh and other important coastal habitat has been restored at Great Meadows Marsh, a Globally Important Bird Area, and part of Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. The public is now welcome to visit the marsh’s old — and new — trails, and take in the sights of fall migration via two viewing platforms.
Since construction began in October 2021, Great Meadows Marsh has transformed into a haven for threatened plants and animals, and community access has been greatly improved. Over 155,000native coastal plants and shrubs were added to the site by 12 paid, seasonal “Salt Marsh Stewards” from Stratford and Bunnell high schools - with the help of three crew leaders and over 150 volunteers; a new creekrestored the natural flow of salt water in and out with the tides; grassy mounds were created to provide an elevated home for nesting Saltmarsh Sparrows; and two viewing platforms were built (soon to become ADA-accessible).
While there is much to celebrate, project partners Audubon Connecticut, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will dedicate three additional years to monitoring project outcomes and improving upon their successes. Invasive species will continue to be managed, and additional native plants and shrubs will be put in the ground.
“Working with federal, state, and nonprofit partners on a project with such high return-on-investment for people and wildlife is tremendously gratifying,” said Kyla Hastie, acting Northeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “A healthy Great Meadows Marsh protects nearby communities by absorbing tidal surge during storms that have become more severe due to climate change climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's climate system and caused change on a global scale.
Learn more about climate change . It also benefits species like the saltmarsh sparrow—a bird that, without our help, could face extinction due to rising seas. In addition, visitors to Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge can enjoy enhanced outdoor recreation.”
The salt marsh at Great Meadows was once more than 1,400 acres, but largely due to development, it had been reduced to less than 700 acres. As well, because of dredged soils brought in as fill, colonization by non-native plants, and sea-level rise, portions of it no longer functioned properly. The degraded marsh produced abundant mosquitoes that plagued locals and visitors for years.
Now, the restored marsh and its creeks provide healthy habitat for Horseshoe crabs and Blue crabs, the beautiful and endangered Marsh Pink flower, Saltmarsh Sparrow and other migratory birds, and fish like Atlantic Silverside and Menhaden.
Since the project was announced in 2019, it grew to represent a $4.65 million investment in Connecticut’s coastline. $3.65 million in support was raised thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Nature Conservancy, the Army Corp of Engineers In Lieu of Fee Program, the Robert F. Schumann Foundation, and the Jeniam Foundation. Funding of nearly $1Mcame from three natural resource damage case settlements related to contaminated sites close to the area: Raymark Industries, Lordship Point Gun Club, and Housatonic River/General Electric. These case settlements supported planning and engineering, and leveraged funds for the project construction and future monitoring.
Additional project successes include:
- Habitat restored and/or improved for fish and other aquatic wildlife. Over 2,000 linear feet of tidal channels have been created on site. The removal of berms improves access to nesting areas for diamond-backed terrapin turtles.
- Mosquito populations reduced and human health concerns addressed. A more natural flow of salt water in and out of the marsh with the tides - rather than pools of sitting water - has reduced breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
- New strategy tested to create habitat for declining Saltmarsh Sparrow. Within the marsh, scientists built “hummocks” – mounds of dirt that act like elevated islands. On those mounds, they planted grasses that thrive in the high marsh, like saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens) and saltgrass (Distichlis spicata). The elevated hummocks allow Saltmarsh Sparrows to nest higher up in the marsh to avoid fatal flooding. The birds will be monitored next spring and beyond, and if effective, the strategy could be expanded coast-wide.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages this portion of the Great Marsh as part of Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, part of a national network of more than 560 refuges spanning the country. These lands protect iconic species and provide some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities on Earth. The trails and viewing platforms at Great Meadows are open to visitors daily from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset.