Piscataway Park Living Shoreline Restoration

Piscataway Park Living Shoreline Restoration
South Coast before RestorationFor decades, this prominent shoreline along the banks of the Potomac River at Piscataway Park, administered by the National Park Service, has been giving itself away bit-by-bit to forces of erosion. Storms, waves, tides, and rising sea levels have scoured its banks, uprooted its trees, and displaced plants and animals. In 2010, the Alice Ferguson Foundation and its partners completed an innovative project to protect the shoreline — a stabilized “Living Shoreline” that can give-and-take with the powerful Potomac River.

This project restored 2,800 feet of shoreline creating two acres of spawning and nursery habitat for more than a dozen fish species, reduces shoreline erosion, improves water quality and provides protection for more than 30 acres of freshwater wetland and threatened Native American archeological sites nearby. It is one of 50 high priority projects funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to restore coastal habitat along the nation’s coasts and help jumpstart the nation’s economy. Under ARRA, NOAA was provided $167 million for marine and coastal habitat restoration. NOAA selected their projects from a pool of 814 proposals, totaling more than $3 billion in requests. Under the Recovery Act, NOAA was provided $167 million for marine and coastal habitat restoration.

Twelve companies and one non-profit organization were involved in the Piscataway Park project over a fifteen month period. They ranged from the project designers and construction firm and their sub-contractors, to truckers that hauled over 1,400 loads of sand and rock to the site. All but two of the companies involved are based in the State of Maryland.

Thousands of school children visit AFF’s Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center each year. Virtually all of these students visit Piscataway Park along the shoreline and across the wetlands. The restoration project enhances AFF’s educational use of the shoreline and saved AFF’s access to Piscataway Bay for the canoe program, as the erosion had caused the existing road to slump down the bank and into the river.

The project is just ten miles downriver from Washington, D.C. and, as such, is the shoreline restoration project closest to the nation’s capital. It is the largest freshwater, tidal, high energy site living shoreline project in the region. Most have been completed in saltwater or brackish water areas; the freshwater projects are usually much smaller in scope and are constructed along small streams.

Today the Living Shoreline gives hope for the continued protection of the shore, wetlands, and surrounding historic lands.

South coast of shoreline after restoration

Living Shoreline Wayside A living shoreline restoration enhances shoreline habitat through the careful placement of plants, stone, sand fill and other structural or organic materials. Living shoreline restorations do not include structures that interrupt the natural processes and connections between highland and aquatic areas. The main reason for a living shoreline restoration is to repair damage caused by erosion.

Erosion is caused by wind, water, and wave action and often results in loss of residential and commercial property, reduction of storm buffering capacity, habitat loss, and water quality degradation. To combat these effects, property owners oftentimes erect bulkheads or seawalls. While these methods are certainly effective, they regularly lead to additional loss of natural habitat. Living shorelines present an ecological and economic alternative.

Diagram of a Living Shoreline

Living Shoreline Restoration at Piscataway Park
(Mockley Point to Accokeek Creek)

  • Approximately 2,800 feet in length
  • Recreated former fringe marsh areas and protective sand berm
  • Elevations range from 0 to + 6 feet
  • Further protected bay area at southern end
North coast of shoreline before restoration.The pristine stretch of the Potomac River at Piscataway Park was eroding rapidly and was at risk for complete loss. Once-wide shoreline beaches that provided rich breeding grounds for crabs and fish, as well as shoreline wave protection for the unique cultural resources and burial grounds on the site were at risk.

Rock and sand were placed to create segmented breakwaters and sills that dampen wave energy and the sand and plants recreate the sand berm which protects the tidal marshes. The designated shoreline extends from Mockley Point at Piscataway Creek to the north, down the Potomac River to the entrance of Accokeek Creek. Continued erosion of this shoreline threatened irreplaceable archeological resources and threatened the natural resources of the area, which is well-known for its pristine habitat and outstanding commercial and recreational fishery.

The Piscataway Park Living Shoreline Restoration project site has unique requirements regarding the shoreline restoration and stabilization techniques. While there are numerous methods that could harden the shoreline and limit erosion and land loss, many of those are neither “bay friendly” in terms of providing habitat, nor visually appealing (a significant requirement of this site since it is in the viewshed of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home). Additionally, protecting the cultural resources at the site also dramatically limited the amount of shoreline excavation that would be permitted, but aquatic resources (specifically submerged aquatic vegetation) in the near-shore area posed resource conflicts and design challenges as well.

South coast gut of the Living Shoreline South coast of Living Shoreline after restoration