Beach Paths and Mobi-mats
March 2, 2017
On March 2, 2017 I attended a meeting funded by the state’s Coastal Zone Management Office to decide where to put portable boardwalks called mobi-mats on Plum Island Beach. Participants drew straws to sit at five different tables with aerial maps of the beach. Because the beach had been neglected so long it was crisscrossed with a network of redundant paths. Many of the paths seemed to have been only used for a few weeks one summer before being abandoned.
Each table was composed of residents, fishing enthusiasts and members of groups like the Massachusetts Beach Buggy Association. We were asked to select three paths that could be eliminated and some that should be saved.
After 15 minutes of discussion each table presented their results. It was instructive how much agreement there was between participants. All the tables felt that between 13 and 17 paths could be eliminated and a few left open.
I came away from the exercise thinking that it was only necessary to have three main paths to the beach; one along the existing boardwalk, one to the center of the beach and one from Northern Reservation Terrace to the jetty.
The North Path
Last autumn waves eroded 30 feet off the dunes to the right of boardwalk that runs from the North End parking lot to the beach. The sand was deposited about seventy feet to the left of the boardwalk where the beach grew a hundred feet.
So it would make sense to have beachgoers would walk down the existing boardwalk then jog left and continue for about seventy feet on a mobi-mat, then enter the beach where it has been growing about fifteen feet a month since October. The rest of the beach had eroded about twenty feet since the fall. The idea was shift people from entering the beach where it was eroding to where it was growing.
Signs and maps would explain that this is the shortest and best path to prevent erosion and point out that it could be used during all tides. And since the beach was growing it had room for people to sit above high tide without damaging the dunes.
Fishermen preferred this area of the beach because they could wade out on a shallow sandbar and cast into deep holes where the striped bass waited for baitfish to be swept over the bar on the incoming and outgoing tides.
The city could also consider moving the lifeguard’s chair to this area and provide permanent Hibachi stoves so people wouldn’t be tempted to build fires on the beach.
The Middle Path
The middle path would use the trail created when trucks drove through the dunes to repair the jetty in 2012. This path would only provide access to the beach at the low and middle tides but it was important to keep it open so official vehicles would have access to the middle of the beach in the event of an emergency.
City officials might not want to put a mobi-map on this path to indicate that it was not a preferred path. But they might want to put a mobi-mat along the top of the dune for safety during the summer.
The Jetty Path
This path would start at 69th street and take people out to the jetty where they could continue to the ocean or double back to the riverside beach. It would be used primarily by residents and people who rent houses on Northern Reservation Terrace. But people could also park at the public parking lot and walk down Northern Reservation Terrace to access this path during storms or extreme high tides. It could be indicated as the longer but safer path during such events.
In the end, the meeting had revealed the paradox that almost losing the beach had also led to its resurrection. But the site visit to the area after the meeting revealed something else. We had lost significantly less of the beach this year than last year. Did the fact that the jetty had settled have something to do with it? I knew just the person who could help us find out.