Connecticut’s coastline is getting an exciting refresh: After years of planning and fundraising, ground is being broken at Great Meadows Marsh, a Globally Important Bird Area, and part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. On November 1, construction will officially begin to restore up to 33 acres of salt marsh and other important coastal habitat.
Great Meadows Marsh contains the largest block of un-ditched salt marsh remaining in Connecticut. Once more than 1,400 acres, the marsh is now less than 700 acres and portions of it no longer function properly due to dredged soils brought in as fill, colonization by non-native plants, and sea-level rise. The degraded marsh produces abundant mosquitoes that have plagued locals and visitors for years. Local birders, fishermen, and wildlife enthusiasts know the site well, as a special place to spot the rare Snowy Owl or catch Striped Bass. The marsh and its creeks are also important 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 has grown to represent a $4.1M investment in Connecticut’s coastline. Just over $1M was originally raised for the effort; it now includes an additional $3.07M in funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Nature Conservancy, the Robert F. Schumann Foundation, and the Jeniam Foundation. Initial funding came from three natural resource damage case settlements related to contaminated sites close to the area: Raymark Industries, Lordship Point Gun Club, and the Housatonic River/General Electric cases. These
case settlements supported planning and engineering, and leveraged funds for the project construction and future monitoring.
Audubon Connecticut, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are partnering on this exciting local restoration project. In addition to managing the construction, Audubon will offer opportunities for the community to get involved, primarily through planting native grasses and shrubs in spring. Sign up here to stay updated.
Expected Project Outcomes Include:
- Mosquito populations reduced and human health concerns addressed. A more natural ebb and flow of salt water in and out of the marsh with the tides - rather than pools of sitting water - will reduce breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
- Native marsh vegetation and wildlife habitat re-established. ~170,000 native coastal plants and shrubs will be planted across 15 acres.
- Bird and other wildlife habitat created and/or improved. A new strategy will be tested to create Saltmarsh Sparrow nesting habitat. If effective, it could be expanded coast-wide.
- Fish and other aquatic habitat restored and/or improved. Soil fill and invasive plants will be removed to restore habitats for a variety of fish, crabs, and other aquatic animals that call saltmarshes and their creeks home.
- Improved access for the community. A long-closed trail will re-open, and one viewing platform will be removed and replaced with two new ADA-accessible platforms.
- Compensating for the impacts from pollution. Settlement funds from polluters that damaged the environment were leveraged to support these restoration efforts.
Additional Information for the Public
October - March, visitors to Great Meadows Marsh will see restoration being completed on the property. From April – May, ~170,000 native plants and shrubs will be put in the ground. It is anticipated that the current Service parking lot and road used to access the observation blind on the freshwater pond will be closed throughout the restoration. The railroad trail will likely be open in sections when those sections can be safely accessed. There is on-street parking available for rail-trail access.
Hunting will take place during the restoration period, as the hunting areas are outside the project area. Hunters will not be able to utilize the parking lot, as it will be closed.