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January storm update: Aftermath & recovery

Back-to-back storms on January 10th and 13th included a combination of seasonal high tides and heavy rain systems, resulting in record-breaking water levels and causing considerable damage along the Maine coast. It was estimated that the storms raised the height of the sea four feet above average high tide. Wind speed and direction were significant destructive factors in the January 10th storm. Many areas on Mount Desert Island including waterfront properties, beaches, and sections of Acadia National Park were hard hit, along with parts of the Preserve. 


The most serious impact at the Preserve was at Bracy Cove across from the main entrance to Little Long Pond, and at the Thuya landing and dock. 


At Bracy Cove, storm surges washed the cobble seawall across the road and into the fields and pond, closing that section of Peabody Drive temporarily. Cobbles filled the swale between the fence and the carriage road next to Peabody Drive. The swale is designed to catch and move water and is traditionally filled with plants and sand. Sections of the split-rail fence next to the parking area were knocked down. 


At Thuya landing and dock, the gangway ramp sustained major damage, as did the three floats which were stored, as they are every year, at Seal Harbor Beach. The beach incurred substantial effects from the storms. The walkway and cribbing stone that leads from the floats to the landing was also damaged. 


None of the gardens were seriously impacted by the storms.  


Immediately following the storms, Preserve crews assessed the damage and began to clean up. We are incredibly grateful to the volunteers who came out to move rocks and debris from Seal Harbor beach and Bracy Cove. A hardy group of College of the Atlantic students and several faculty members helped out over several days. Hannaford supermarket generously pitched in, providing lunches for the clean-up crews. 


We have made good progress toward repairing and restoring the affected areas, but there is more to be done. 


At Bracy Cove, Preserve crews worked with the state Department of Transportation and the town of Mount Desert to clear the road and rebuild the cobble berm. Work continues on the culvert between the cove and the pond to ensure proper flow of water between the two bodies.


This storm has forced the Preserve to rethink how we manage our property along Peabody Drive at Little Long Pond. According to Natural Lands Director, Tate Bushell, “Where we once would remove every cobble that was pushed onto our property by a winter storm, we will now be leaving cobbles in certain places. Bracy Cove is such a dynamic landscape. It no longer makes sense for us to ignore that and only manage the roadside property as a tidy upland environment. In reality, it is very messy, in a beautiful naturalistic type of way.”

The work at Little Long Pond is scheduled to begin in the spring and continue for part of the summer. The carriage road between the swale and the pond will remain passable while the work is going on. Parking along the road will continue to be available unless future storms cause additional damage and flooding. We will post updates on our website and social media pages.


At the Thuya landing and dock, our plan is to build new floats and repair the gangway this spring, with the goal of completing the work by this summer. In the future, we will store the floats away from the shore. The cribbing stone has already been reset to its original position. 


The storms in January are the most recent examples of extreme weather events that are expected in greater frequency and intensity as the planet warms. Higher storm surges are anticipated due to sea level rise. High winds from another storm on March 10th did additional damage at Bracy Cove, flooding Peabody Drive at the entrance to Little Long Pond, and the carriage road and meadow beyond it. Going forward, the Preserve is researching resiliency options to protect our coastal properties. 

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