Wagon Hill Farm in Durham to Pilot Living Shoreline to Address Erosion and Adapt to Sea-Level Rise

Wagon Hill Farm, highlighted in yellow on this map, sits at the mouth of the Oyster River on Little Bay

Wagon Hill Farm, highlighted in yellow on this map, sits at the mouth of the Oyster River on Little Bay

On September 17, 2016, Mike Lynch, Department of Public Works Director for the Town of Durham, attended Durham Day, located at Wagon Hill Farm, to celebrate the community together with hundreds of Durham residents, young and old. Residents took in what may have been the last summery day of the year at the beautiful property, eating burgers cooked by UNH fraternity brother volunteers, partaking in some competitive bouncy house bouncing, enjoying live music, and jumping in kayaks and motor boats for free rides in Little Bay. Lynch was also there to showcase preliminary plans for a shoreline restoration project up-river of the Wagon Hill Farm ‘beach’ access area. In March of 2016, the Town of Durham appropriated funds in the town budget to deal with ongoing erosion issues at Wagon Hill Farm. Lynch and a team of town staff, University of New Hampshire researchers, Strafford Regional Planning Commission planners, and NH Department of Environmental Services staff are exploring the possibility of installing a ‘living shoreline’ at Wagon Hill Farm to curb the erosion problem on the site and restore some of the eroded salt marsh habitat.

Durham DPW has moved the fence at the Wagon Hill Farm shoreline back 16 feet due to erosion.

Durham DPW has moved the fence at the Wagon Hill Farm shoreline back 16 feet due to erosion.

A living shoreline is a shoreline stabilization technique that utilizes a variety of structural and organic materials such as wetland plants, submerged aquatic vegetation, oyster reefs, coir fiber logs, sand fill, and stone (NOAA). When installed under the appropriate conditions, a living shoreline can stop or slow erosion, protect nearshore ecosystems, improve water quality, create habitat, store flood water, and sequester and store carbon. Additionally, a living marsh shoreline can be designed to adapt to sea-level rise—naturally building elevation as water levels increase and eventually moving upland if water rises too quickly.

But before specific living shoreline options are considered at Wagon Hill Farm, the team is trying to figure out what exactly is causing the erosion that has led Mike’s staff to move the fence that runs along the shoreline back 16 feet since 1989 when the town bought the property. NHCAW member Dr. David Burdick, Dr. Tom Ballestero, and Dr. Gregg Moore are monitoring a series of possible erosion factors at the site, including light and shade on the salt marsh, wave energy from boats and winds, current energy, and human and canine visitors.

Photo credit: Todd Selig. Left to right: Trevor Mattera, UNH; Kirsten Howard NHDES Coastal Program; Mike Lynch, Town of Durham; Dave Burdick, UNH at Durham Day.

Some of the team at Durham Day. Photo credit: Todd Selig. Left to right: Trevor Mattera, UNH; Kirsten Howard NHDES Coastal Program; Mike Lynch, Town of Durham; Dave Burdick, UNH.

Figure: Some options for different living shorelines in coastal communities like Durham. Illustration by Liz Podowski King. Original content developed by Carolyn LaBarbiera and Liz Podowski King with support from the New York Department of State. Adapted for use by the NHDES Coastal Program.

Figure: Some options for different living shorelines in coastal communities like Durham. Illustration by Liz Podowski King. Original content developed by Carolyn LaBarbiera and Liz Podowski King with support from the New York Department of State. Adapted for use by the NHDES Coastal Program.

If installed, the Wagon Hill Farm living shoreline will be one of the very first living shoreline projects conducted in coastal New Hampshire. Researchers, municipal officials, and many others will be able to learn from its installation and subsequent monitoring of the site so that these types of approaches can be applied in other places too.

”The Town of Durham is proud to be the lead agency for such a cutting edge, pioneering project that could change how seacoast communities control erosion problems year round not only here in Durham, but up and down the eastern seaboard ” Lynch said in a recent interview.

If you live in Durham or frequent Wagon Hill Farm, there will be opportunities to share your thoughts about the Wagon Hill Farm shoreline project in the coming months. In the meantime, you can contact University of New Hampshire researcher Dr. David Burdick with any questions or ideas (david.burdick@unh.edu).

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