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Superstorm Sandy and National Parks

destroyed ferry dock

It’s been just over seven weeks now since Hurricane Sandy battered New Jersey and New York, and national park sites in the region are still recovering.  Some have re-opened, but others—including iconic destinations like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island—suffered such heavy damage that they will remain closed well into 2013.

About 75% of twelve-acre Liberty Island was underwater at the peak of Sandy’s storm surge.  Water depths over the island reached eight feet.  The Statue of Liberty itself escaped damage, as did the pedestal, but the island’s piers (above left) and brickwork walkways (below) did not fare as well.

Damage to the brick walkways around Lady Liberty. NPS Photo / Rannow.

Damage to the brick walkways around Lady Liberty. NPS Photo/Rannow.

Ellis Island suffered significant damage in the storm, too, with the historic hospital buildings taking an especially hard hit.

Flooding inflicted significant damage on the Health Exhibit space in the Ferry Building, displacing display cases and scattering brochures. NPS Photo

Flooding inflicted significant damage on the Health Exhibit space in the Ferry Building, displacing display cases and scattering brochures. NPS Photo.

Gateway National Recreation Area includes a number of sites in both New York and New Jersey, including Breezy Point, Jacob Riis Park, and Floyd Bennett Field around Jamaica Bay; Great Kills Park, Miller Field, and Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island; and Sandy Hook in New Jersey.  Some of these locations have re-opened to the public, while others remain closed.

Damage to the multi-use path at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. NPS Photo/Warren Bielenberg

Damage to the multi-use path at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. NPS Photo/Warren Bielenberg.

As soon as the storm had passed, crews from national parks all around the country headed to the NY-NJ area to assist in recovery efforts.  From a peak of 546 responders in mid-November, the National Park Service Hurricane Sandy Response Team has now shrunk to 82 people from 40 NPS sites in 24 states and the District of Columbia.  You can follow the NPS Hurricane Sandy Response Team on Facebook or check out their photostream on Flickr (the source for the images on this page).

While I am proud of how much the response team has accomplished, I worry about the future of these magnificent parks.  As climate change brings about sea level rise and an increase in severity and frequency of big storms like Sandy, near-shore units of the national park system will have to join other coastal dwellers in finding ways to try to fend off future damage.

We can’t afford to go through this response process again and again.  According to NPR, the cost of repairs to Liberty and Ellis Islands alone will run to $59 million.  If you look at all the national park sites in the New York metropolitan area, the tally is more like $200 million.

We need to change our lifestyles in order to try to slow the climate change process, and we need everyone to pitch in.  Organizations like 350.org are doing some great work, creating websites that are brimming with suggestions about things each and every one of us can do.  Take a look and see what you can do to shrink your carbon footprint, then follow through.  Work with your friends, family, and neighbors to join in the grassroots climate action efforts taking hold around the globe.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. FeyGirl #

    Wonderful post and reminder… Everyone MUST do their bit. If each person does the bare minimum, the world would be the better for it. It doesn’t take much.

    December 18, 2012
    • cathybell #

      Thanks! I’ve been thinking lots about the politics of climate change lately, and about how people are so polarized on the issue. We keep talking about it in terms of “belief” (e.g., “I don’t believe in climate change,” “polls show that x% of Americans believe in climate change,” etc.) when it is simply a reality that we need to confront.

      I’m planning a blog post about how environmental educators and concerned citizens can be more effective in communicating on the issue–watch for it–but a lot of the best advice comes down to delivering a positive, empowering message. People are a potent force for change, when we make up our minds to be!

      December 19, 2012
      • FeyGirl #

        VERY true. I’ve been thinking much the same — at this point, who cares about the belief in what’s happening. Look at the research, animal patterns, flora. Honestly.

        There’s another blogger who’s actively researching the movement of animals in the midst of this change; her work is fascinating (as is the beauty of her images). If you’d like to connect, let me know!

        But as with so much else, the key, like you say, is a positive and empowering message. Very well put.

        December 20, 2012
        • cathybell #

          I’d love to connect with her, yes. Thanks!

          December 20, 2012
          • FeyGirl #

            http://toughlittlebirds.com/

            A few posts down, she discusses global warming and her research… But all her posts are quite fascinating! I think you’ll enjoy. :)

            December 20, 2012

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