The project in progress on Willard Beach. Brianna Soukup photo/Press Herald

The city of South Portland launched a program using discarded Christmas trees in efforts to restore the majority of dunes between Willard Beach and Myrtle Avenue. The dunes protect important public infrastructure as well as provide wildlife habitat. They were washed out in the storm on Dec. 23.

“What we’re trying to protect is infrastructure that we have in two portions of that dune system,” said South Portland Conservation Manager Kristina Ertzner. “We have a sewer force main that runs through there that had a blowout in 2021. And it suffered some dune damage when that blew out, then more of that washed out with this storm in December of ’22. So what we’re really focusing on is protecting our infrastructure so any future storms don’t cause a blowout or a problem with that sewer system.”

The restoration plan was developed by South Portland Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront with consultation from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Cumberland County Emergency Manager Association, and the Maine Geological Survey.

South Portland’s plans were approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which gave a permit to the city. The city began placing the trees on March 10.

The plan is to reuse Christmas trees collected by the South Portland Department of Public Works and set them up within the dunes to create a sand trap to help rebuild the dunes. About 165 trees are being put into the dunes in lines with the hope of dune restoration building vertically. The technique has seen success in parts of the country for decades, such as in Alabama and North Carolina.

“This is a great way to recycle natural materials and an important trial for Maine. If successful, this method may be used statewide to economically save or restore many miles of sand dunes that may be lost due to impending sea level rise and climate change,” said Ertzner.


The project is estimated to cost about $20,000.

Excepted from the project is a small area of dunes between Myrtle Avenue and Beach Street on Willard Beach. The area that would be protected by dunes is privately owned, and Maine’s Constitution does not allow the city to use public funds for the private section. Despite that, dune regeneration is expected to happen on its own in the area due to existing rooted dune grass. However, the city is open to partnering with private groups and citizens to fund restoration efforts in this area, according to a press release.

“We’re grateful to the many experts who helped craft this plan and all those who expressed concern about the dunes in the aftermath of the storm,” said South Portland Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Director Karl Coughlin. “It’s clear that our beach is treasured, and we look forward to getting going on our plan to bring back the dunes.”

The city is also restringing temporary fencing to prevent humans and dogs out of the dunes.

The city will look at how much sand the trees collected by the spring, and possibly bring in matching sand. Dune grass will be planted on this stretch of beach once there is enough sand in place.

The dunes will take years for restoration. South Portland Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront will work with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to support the restoration.

“We’re excited to get this project underway and see the dunes grow over the coming months and years,” said Ertzner.

To donate a contribution for dune restoration, email Kristina Ertzner at

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