Collecting old Christmas trees in N.J. to help shore up the dunes

Discarded Christmas trees were laid on Midway Beach to bolster a zigzag of beach fence. Truckloads of trees from Haddonfield will be used.
Discarded Christmas trees were laid on Midway Beach to bolster a zigzag of beach fence. Truckloads of trees from Haddonfield will be used. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photograph)
Posted: January 12, 2013

For Dominick Solazzo, the last few weeks have been a nonstop Christmas morning.

"Gifts" of discarded Christmas trees - sometimes in large quantities - have arrived almost daily at Midway Beach in Berkeley Township, between Seaside Park and Island Beach State Park, in Ocean County.

Solazzo and other residents are grateful for the pungent balsams, pines, and firs, which will help rebuild Midway's sand dunes, decimated by the ferocious Hurricane Sandy in October.

"The outpouring has been amazing," said Solazzo, 40, a union electrician and environmental advocate who has used social media to get the word out about the tree drive.

"Those dunes are what saved us, so I feel obligated to do my part to help rebuild them," said Solazzo, whose year-round condo near the beach sustained almost no damage.

Individuals have driven with donations from Princeton and Southampton Township, he said. "One condo complex from North Jersey called and said they were bringing down 500," so many that he had to divert them to other beach towns.

The years-old practice of laying down evergreens to beef up the dunes - and avoid sending the trees to a landfill - has special meaning this year at the battered Jersey Shore. About 30 million live trees are sold in the country annually, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. State environmentalists and officials say they hope to put thousands to further use.

In Haddonfield, trees picked up curbside during regular trash collection will be saved for use in an environmental project conducted by several dozen Haddonfield Memorial High School students on the Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Officials expect to collect a couple hundred, said Mayor Tish Colombi. They will be trucked by resident Jeff Tucker, at his expense, to Midway Beach by Jan. 21 in time for students to help Solazzo.

Some earlier donations already have been laid on Midway Beach to bolster a zigzag stand of beach fence that will catch the blowing sand and grow into a dune, Solazzo said.

"This is a great learning project for the students," Colombi said, "and a great way for our town to help out with the Shore's recovery effort."

Grassroots groups, environmentalists, and towns have used social media and word of mouth to mount collection drives intended to aid towns up and down the Shore. Some municipalities, including Belmar and Brick, have appealed to Pennsylvania farm markets and other outlets for unsold or discarded trees.

Individuals may drop off the evergreens - whole only - between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday at Cattus Island County Park in Toms River. In past years, the park turned them into mulch for use on trails. This year, the donations - which officials believe could run into the thousands - will be transported to Island Beach for a dune-restoration pilot project administered by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

On Jan. 19, volunteers will help "plant" them and other trees dropped off that day by laying them end-to-end against the prevailing winds on the dune line in the upper section of Island Beach. The securely anchored natural "fence" will trap sand that eventually will bury the trees and help protect the beach against heavy wave action from storms.

Recycling Christmas trees as dune material was popular in New Jersey in the late '80s and early '90s, but fell out of favor after scientists gave the results mixed reviews, said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, an environmental watchdog group based in Highlands, N.J.

Many towns switched to planting dune grass or to installing wooden snow fences to trap sand, Zipf said. But using discarded trees is virtually free, which has created renewed interest among cash-strapped towns.

Clean Ocean Action is helping collect trees through its Waves of Action for the Shore project, which organizes volunteers dedicated to restoring the shoreline post-Sandy.

The pilot, Zipf said, "will help assess where this low-cost material could help in the short term and its effectiveness" over the long haul.


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo

at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com,

or follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.

Read the Jersey Shore

blog, "Downashore," at www.philly.com/downashore.

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