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Native grasses planted to restore Smithtown marsh

Transforming what once were “barren mudflats,” native grasses are being planted again at Sunken Meadow State Park in Smithtown, an advocacy group said on Tuesday.

“The recovery this salt marsh has already shown is an incredible display of nature’s resilience,” said Gwen Macdonald, director of green projects for Save the Sound, a Connecticut-based nonprofit.

The multiyear, $2.5 million effort to replace invasive freshwater reeds began in 2015, three years after superstorm Sandy sliced through a man-made berm that divided Sunken Meadow Creek from the Long Island Sound, according to a spokeswoman for agency.

The berm was built across the creek as part of master builder Robert Moses’ design to improve access, she said.

However, the barrier transformed a saltwater wetland into a fresh water marsh, allowing nonnative Phragmites reeds, which thrive in freshwater, to take over.

Those invaders were uprooted earlier this month, and will be replaced by 20,000 new native grass shoots — with help from volunteers — over two acres of “recovering saltwater marshland,” the nonprofit said in a statement.

This year’s plantings should finish the project, funded by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

“We are expecting to wrap up the marsh restoration this spring,” Macdonald said.

She summed up the benefits:

“Our ability to give nature a gentle boost will speed up the recovery process and benefit not only the local ecosystem, but also nearby communities that depend on a hearty coastline for protection from storms and sea rise.”

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