July 16, 2008

Erosion Threatens Gull Point Trail at Presque Isle State Park

By Robb Frederick, Erie Times-News, Pa.

Jul. 16--The tip of Presque Isle is getting thinner.

The trail to Gull Point, a 319-acre sand spit, has eroded, limiting trips to the park's eastern edge, where a "special management area" protects nesting shorebirds.

Access to the bird area is restricted from April 1 through Nov. 20. The trail leading up to it remains open, though it has eroded in at least three spots.

Park managers saw that coming.

"We are not getting the sand nourishment that we need," said Harry Leslie, the park's operations manager. "The quantities that we need to protect the north face of Gull Point are not getting there. So that north point is moving in. It's coming closer and closer."

The park's staff will add more than 42,000 tons of new sand this year, widening beaches that were beaten by wind and winter storms. The state and federal governments split the project's $1.1 million cost.

That work will continue this week. Crews are adding sand to Beaches 9 and 10, just west of the Gull Point trailhead.

It might not be enough.

"If there are not additional quantities of sand put into the system, we are going to continue to have erosion out there, beyond the beach walls," Leslie said. "That whole area could be reconfigured over the next 20 to 40 years."

In other words, Gull Point could become an island.

"It's a good thing we don't have anything permanent out there," Leslie said.

That kind of movement, however gradual, is part of the state park's natural dynamic. The entire peninsula split from the mainland in 1828 and again in 1833. A third split, in 1917, lasted five years.

Gull Point is in a constant state of change. The area lost more than 4 acres between 1991 and 2006.

None of it existed in 1900. Then, the peninsula ended at Budny Beach.

"Presque Isle is a dynamic place," said James Bissell, the curator of botany and coordinator of natural areas for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. "And that's not necessarily a bad thing."

His glass is half full. He'll come to the park Thursday to continue a plant inventory at Gull Point. He expects to see less Morrow's bush-honeysuckle, an invasive plant with a bright red berry. When the shoreline washed off, a bunch of the shrubs went with it.


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