Christmas trees spending afterlife on Carolina Beach – StarNewsOnline.com
Published: Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 4:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 at 4:50 p.m.
Carolina Beach got into the holiday spirit Saturday, exactly one month after Christmas Day, as volunteers peppered the beach with discarded Christmas trees.
“Essentially, we’re using the trees to act as a natural sand fencing,” said Ethan Crouch, chairman of the Cape Fear chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. “Sand blows down the beach, and the trees will grab that sand. As that happens over time, the trees will bury themselves, creating and enlarging the dunes.”
The beach dunes, large sand formations along the coast, provide habitat for sea turtles and nesting birds and serve as natural storm buffer zones. Typically, coastal towns trap sand for the dunes by placing wood-and-wire fencing along their borders, but some communities also use discarded Christmas trees to naturally enhance the formations. Carolina Beach’s program, implemented Saturday for the first time, requires no permit and recycled roughly 50 trees, all rescued from curbs in the town.
“The town has been doing this for as long as I can remember, where they will pick up your used Christmas tree for free,” Crouch said. “But the town has to pay to dispose of the trees, so not only are we helping the dunes grow, but we’re saving the town money.”
To capture sand, volunteers stack the recycled trees in front of the dunes, in rows perpendicular to the ocean.
“We’re going to stack probably three or four together at a slight angle, about two feet apart,” Crouch said. “So, there’ll be little rows of trees on the front of the dune.”
The trees will most likely be a bit of an eyesore until they’re covered with sand, which can take several months, according to Tim Holloman, town manager of Topsail Beach, which began a similar program last year.
“We had a few complaints last year because when they’re uncovered, they look like skeletal structures. They’re not pretty green trees anymore,” he said. “But they’ve filled in enough now that people are not objecting to them.”
Regionally, there’s little evidence to suggest the trees will make a significant difference in sand accumulation along the coast. Holloman said more long-term studies are needed to fully determine the impact – Topsail will most likely continue the program for at least the next five years – but either way, it’s unlikely to be a game-changer for erosion mitigation measures.
“I think they’re working. We’ll have to do it several years in a row to see if it builds up additional dune structures,” he said. “I think it’s worked. Nothing is 100 percent effective against Mother Nature, but we’ll keep on doing it.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram: 343-2217
On Twitter: @kate_goes_bleu