Lenore Tedesco, Ph.D., Executive Director
Wetlands Institute, Stone Harbor, NJ 08247

The Avalon Dune and Beach Trail provides a remarkable opportunity to explore a rare and unique landscape and lost ecosystem. Prior to European settlement, barrier islands throughout the mid-Atlantic regions were largely covered with maritime forests that gradually gave way to shrub forests, then meadows, dunes and finally the beach. Traveling from the island interior toward the beach provided a dynamic environment that was continually shaped and changed by the power of the ocean. Today, this environment is largely goneā€”the victim of clearing and development. The vast and extensive dune complexes are now mostly constructed and limited to a narrow coastal swath directly behind the beach.

A trail walk through the remnant maritime forest to the beach will take a visitor on a journey that includes both freshwater and salt water environments and a spectrum of plants from tall and hardy forest trees, through a progression of shorter and more stunted trees that gradually give way to shrubs, grasses and finally blowing and drifting sand. This progression follows an energy and harshness gradient from the island interior to the coast. The maritime forest’s trees flourish in the protection afforded them by the dunes providing a shield from the ocean’s energy. As the trail leads closer to the beach, trees become shorter, more stressed and change to trees that can adapt to the salty breezes and heavier winds. Progressively, the trees give way to shrubs that hide behind the protection of the dunes. Finally, the shrubs give way to the dune and marsh grasses that sway continually in the never ending ocean breezes.

This is a special environment and a special place that preserves a window into the past and creates a protected place for the plants and animals of this unique ecosystem to continue to thrive. Please enjoy it responsibly.