The Portland Phoenix

South Portland pilot project uses Christmas trees to rebuild Willard Beach dunes

A sign on Willard Beach in South Portland informs visitors of dune restoration efforts. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)

A sign on Willard Beach in South Portland informs visitors of dune restoration efforts at a section of the beach fortified with evergreen conifers. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)

South Portland is giving discarded Christmas trees a new purpose with a project to restore dunes at Willard Beach that were washed away by a pre-Christmas storm.

Willard Beach became the first beach in the state to feature the restoration technique, following the project’s successes in other states. The city’s Parks Department partnered with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Geological Survey to collect discarded evergreen conifer trees and use them to help fortify the damaged dunes on the popular beach between Willard Street and Myrtle Avenue. 

By placing them on the beach in rows, the trees are designed to trap blowing sand. Once they’re covered, the expectation is that they will become a natural piece of the dunes.

Kristina Ertzner, South Portland’s conservation manager, Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky and a small team started early Friday morning, March 10, unloading the trees onto the beach and laying them along the dunes.

A small South Portland Parks Department group, including Conservation Manager Kristina Ertzner (middle), at Willard Beach on March 10. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)

Hopes were high for the project, Ertzner said, and it could be a benchmark for other Maine beaches if it succeeds.

“This is a great way to recycle natural materials and an important trial for Maine. If successful, this method may be used statewide to economically save or restore many miles of sand dunes that may be lost due to impending sea level rise and climate change,” Ertzner said in a press release.

The project is going to cost the city approximately $20,000 and required a rough estimate of around 150 trees. South Portland explored using Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to contribute to it, but the project was deemed ineligible.

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