BELMAR, NJ — A small beachfront experiment is under way on a patch of sand near the 12th Avenue playground.

Tucked into a corner between the boardwalk and the playground’s north side, a crescent-shaped area is filled with dozens of tender young plants of various shapes and sizes, neatly positioned around several large landscape boulders and along wooden snow fencing. It’s a modest start to establishing an attractive beachscape barrier that will help protect Belmar’s entire beachfront during storms.

The 1,500-square-foot dune planting is a pilot project to determine what types of plants will thrive in the narrow area directly in front of the boardwalk facing the ocean along the borough's 1.3-mile beachfront.

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We’re going to see how (the planting) does during the winter,” said Belmar Councilman Tom Brennan, its liaison to the Environmental Commission. “We want to add a layer of protection between the ocean and the boardwalk and beautify the beachfront at the same time, yet have dune plants that still allow you to see the ocean from the boardwalk.”

Dune grass plays an important role in stabilizing beach dunes — the natural barriers that protect the oceanfront against storms and the powerful ocean surge. In Belmar, its last stretch of protective dunes was washed away during Superstorm Sandy five years ago.

For several months before the latest planting, Brennan worked with horticulturist Jason Austin, owner of The Little Plant Company of Pine Beach, in selecting native and other plants that would be sustainable for this area of the Jersey Shore and be suitable for Belmar’s beachfront.

The result is a mixture of three types of dune grass and 10 types of plants that bloom at staggered times in different colors from spring to fall. Among them are butterfly weed, evening primrose, seaside goldenrod, beach rose and yucca.

“We kept with the native theme with more ornamental or showier selections of these species,” said Austin, who recently planted the garden with his wife, Kelly, and assistance from the borough’s public works department. “I am sure it will be a beautiful addition to the boardwalk.”

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