Dying pines, disappearing sands haunt Conimicut Point

Posted 4/20/22



wenty-eight more pine trees are dead at Conimicut Point Park and will need to be cut down. That leaves fewer than 15 out of an estimated 70 black pines that once dotted the …

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Dying pines, disappearing sands haunt Conimicut Point



Twenty-eight more pine trees are dead at Conimicut Point Park and will need to be cut down. That leaves fewer than 15 out of an estimated 70 black pines that once dotted the park. That’s not all the point is losing. An estimated two feet of sand has been stripped from the southern beach exposing stone and cement foundations of houses swept away by the 1938 Hurricane. 

Retired Coastal Resource Management Council geologist and Senior Fellow at the Coastal Institute Janet Freeman, who surveyed the point Monday afternoon, attributed the loss of sand to high tides and wave and tidal action during storms. She called it a natural phenomenon, pointing out that the Conimicut spit has moved over the years. There’s no saying when or if the sands will make a return.  Depletion of the beach and the protrusion of the foundations have raised concerns over the safety of opening the beach to bathers.  As obstructions are not visible at high tide, the fear is that swimmers could injure themselves.

Freeman said replenishing the beach would be a costly project with no guarantee that the sands would hold.

Beverly Wiley, Director of Parks and Recreation was unaware of the beach development. On Thursday she said she would assess the situation. She also said she hoped the city would have the lifeguards to open the beach this summer. Last summer, the city didn’t have sufficient lifeguards to staff its three beaches – Oakland Beach, City Park and Conimicut in addition to McDermott Pool. It also lacked sufficient personnel to collect fees at all three beaches, thus leaving Conimicut free for most of the summer.

Those returning to Conimicut will be greeted by phalanxes of dead and dying sentinels. What needles they still have are brown and brittle.    

What’s killed the trees?

Warwick Tree Warden Carlos Pinheiro can’t identify a single cause.

One area resident, who didn’t want to be identified for this story believes, some trees were deliberately killed by cutting the bark of the tree in a circle or “ringing.”  He speculated homeowners outside the park wanted to get an improved view of the Bay. He also points to a section of the park where new growth made up of two and three inch diameter deciduous trees have been hacked down.

An examination of the dead trees found two pines had been ringed. There was also a section near the south beach where smaller trees had been lopped off two and three feet above the ground.

Pinheiro thinks the rings hastened, if not was the cause, that killed the two trees. Some of the other trees look like they may have been ringed at one time but the majority show no evidence of efforts to kill them. Pinheiro offers several explanations.

He sees “winter burn” as a major factor. Winter burn is brought about by cold, dry and windy  - 40 MPH plus - conditions  that strip the pines of their needles. Beetles and blight may have something to do with it, too. Pinheiro points out evidence of beetles in the stumps of two dead trees cut down.

“Dogs urinating on them doesn’t help either,” he said.  He doesn’t see that as a game changed for the trees, although he observes once one dog urinates on a tree it is followed by a succession of other dogs.

Flooding of the park during storm surges may also have something to do with it. The salt water permeated the ground and could be comprising the trees. Freeman notes that rising sea levels could be a contributing factor as salt water filtrates into the ground water. 

Then, too, there’s the possibility the trees are nearing the end of their life cycle. Pinheiro estimates the trees were all planted at about the same time in the 60s or 70s.

In the past 20 years Pinheiro estimates the city tree crew has cut down at least 50 dead black pines at the park. 

The death of conifers has been more pronounced since Super Storm Sandy inundated the park.  Cindey and Steve Uralowich who have lived just outside the park for the past ten years and almost daily make a round of the park with their dog Montana said they lost all of their arborvitaes following Sandy, which they attribute to the introduction of salt to the ground water. 

They also have noticed the loss of beach sand. 

“We’ve never seen those foundations,” says Cindey, “where did those stone walls come from?”

As for the vegetation, Pinheiro reasons a succession of severe winters could have hastened the demise of the pines. He points out the pines are not found at Rocky Point, Oakland Beach or City Park. Deciduous trees in those parks appear to be more tolerant of coastal conditions. He names oaks and weeping willows that are found at Oakland Beach. He thinks that willows would survive at Conimicut while providing summer shade for picnickers.

Pinheiro said the dead pines will have to come down although at this point they aren’t on a schedule for removal. He is troubled by the destruction of undergrowth and saplings that have helped avert erosion and provide habitat and food for birds. He advocates revitalization of a citywide tree planting program.

Point conditions have not gone unnoticed by Ginny Barham, president of the Conimicut Village Association and her husband Lonnie.

“Kids rushing into the water are going to hit those,” Lonnie said of the foundations obscured by high tides. He also took a count of the dead pines coming up with the number of 28 as well as found the two ringed trees. 

Ginny is concerned by conditions at the playground where excavation was started and then halted for the installation of an adult exercise pad. The association received a legislative grant for the equipment that was bought more than a year ago and is in city storage.  Work on installing the equipment started in September but stopped when the Municipal Employees Union complained that a supervisor and non-union member was performing the work. Lacking a licensed union operator of the equipment, a partially excavated site remains beside the playground and a temptation for kids to play. 

Ginny said the association has sought to hasten the project, offering to buy mulch for the installation.

Wiley said she has been in contact with the Department of Public Works, that they now have personnel qualified to do the work and she has been assured work will resume shortly.

trees, Cominicut point


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