While experiencing the richness of the dune environment, you might hear the warbling call of a white-crowned sparrow; or the wind riffling through native grasses. You might see delicate, tiny wildflowers. But over twenty-five years ago, you would have seen only ice plant and heard only barren, blowing sand. State Park Senior Environmental Scientist Tom Moss.
The dunes were in a severely degraded condition as a result of years and years of various destructive uses. Grazing, picnicking, and just general public use, trampled away the native vegetation. And once the vegetation was gone, the sand began to blow.
Moss helped design and supervise a massive dune restoration project, begun in 1984. The project’s goal was to bring the dunes back to the condition they were in before Europeans settled here.
In restoration, we purposely intervene to accelerate the healing process. And so, instead of taking 50 years, we were able to accomplish most of the work within five years.
Park staff first found small, pristine areas of the dunes to learn which plants grew there and how they were distributed. They collected and grew seeds from these remaining native plants, and removed exotics, like ice plant. Bulldozers resculpted the dunes into their natural forms. The dunes were replanted, and finally, the boardwalk was built.
Soon after dune restoration, work began, something surprising happened.
The animal life changed radically with the reintroduction of the native plants into the dunes. You could hear birds singing out there again, whereas before it was just a dead zone, there was no wildlife of any kind. On every yellow bush lupine plant in the dunes there was a white-crowned sparrow singing and its mate was somewhere down in the plant in a nest raising their young.
We have discovered burrowing owls; we've discovered various kinds of raptors -- white-tailed…kites, occasionally see peregrine falcons flying over -- and black legless lizards. … And those were very rare prior to the dunes being restored, because they depend on native insects, which eat native plants. So with the return of the native plants, so came back the black legless lizards. There's a small group of deer now that live permanently out in the sand dunes.