Bethany’s Loop Canal gets ‘au naturel’ wetlands restoration

Coastal Point • Laura Walter : To the left is the narrow Loop Canal, to the right, log barriers that will slow the wave action in Salt Pond and help build up this protective strip of land.Coastal Point • Laura Walter : To the left is the narrow Loop Canal, to the right, log barriers that will slow the wave action in Salt Pond and help build up this protective strip of land.A new project along Bethany Beach Loop Canal could see the marsh there slowly restoring itself.

The Delaware Center for Inland Bays has brought the Living Shorelines program to a small chunk of wetlands near the canal, just north of Route 26. By installing pine logs in the shallow water, the CIB hopes to preserve and even rebuild the marsh, naturally.

The goal is to avoid “hardening” shorelines with bulkheads, riprap and seawalls, all of which diminish wildlife, said Sally Boswell, CIB education and outreach coordinator.

In the shallow water, 10- to 20-foot logs were staked in the Salt Pond shallows in a herringbone pattern. It creates a breakwater, so the water is calmer behind the logs on a tiny strip of land that delineates the canal and protects the mainland.

“They capture the energy of the waves and the wind … at all times of the year,” said Marianne Walch, CIB Estuary Science & Restoration coordinator.

That includes northeasterly storms in winter and summer’s northwest winds.

“You can see pretty clearly where the waves on this side are bigger,” Walch said from inside a small motorboat on the canal.

Sediment in the water can build up behind those calming logs, allowing soil to drift to the bottom and begin rebuilding the marsh. Native grasses will fill in on their own.

That means the project doesn’t just prevent erosion but builds the shoreline and creates habitat.

The community was very interested in protecting the marshlands that separates them from the open water of the Salt Pond, according to Boswell.

“These neighborhoods are all very dependent on this for protection. … It acts as a shock-absorber in really hard times when water would be driven right over,” Boswell said.

Concerned citizens Chuck Peterson and Steve Piron helped get the ball rolling for the project around 2010 — the manmade Loop Canal’s 100th birthday. Having lived or kayaked on the canal for years, they researched who even owns the canal (three entities: the State, the Delaware National Guard and Town of Bethany Beach).

Peterson estimated that this strip of land has eroded at least 30 feet in the last five or six years.

The entire layout was only completed a few weeks ago, although it was begun in the coldest part of winter. And just a few weeks in, tiny fish were already flitting around the shallow logs. Farther out, seagulls were perched together, as if in conversation.

With that shelter aboveground and underwater, they’ll contribute to the overall ecosystem.

“This could not have been done without the Center for Inland Bays,” Piron emphasized.

This is CIB’s first independent Living Shorelines project, although it’s helped with past projects.

The team got help from Delaware’s Mosquito Control Section, which has equipment that’s big enough to travel over the marsh but can do so without damaging it.

After a statewide Living Shorelines committee convened few years ago, “We are really gonna be charging hard with it here on the inland bays,” Boswell said.

This year, Walch will work to identify five more sites, all of which may use different techniques and materials, depending on the conditions.