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Mudflats or Lake at Pryer Manor Marsh?
Can one Project Satisfy Nature & Neighbors?

by Judy Silberstein

Pryer Marsh

(June 5, 2003) First the tall phragmite reeds disappeared in the winter. Then trenches and pipes and machinery appeared. What’s happening to the small marsh on Pryer Manor Road?

It’s all part of an effort to restore the salt-water marsh and return native grasses and plants to the area, explained Town Councilwoman Phyllis Wittner, who wrote two grants in the late 90’s to support the project. NY State is kicking in $244,5000 and there’s an additional $109,370 coming from the Town of Mamaroneck and the Pryer Manor Marsh Preservation Association, a local conservancy group.

Before there were settlers, and suburbs and asphalt, there were acres of salt-water marshland in the area now known as Pryer Manor. More recently, underground pipes leading from the nearby Premium River allowed brackish waters to ebb and flow through the marsh that remained after land was drained for houses and roads. However, the pipes have clogged and collapsed, the marsh has filled with fresh water, and invasive, non-native phragmites have crowded out the original diversity of vegetation.

“I was interested in restoring salt water to the marsh,” explained Wittner, “Because it would bring in the small fish and other small invertebrates at the bottom of the food chain. The fish attract other wildlife. That will bring in a diversity of birds rather than just the ducks and herons there now. You’ll see the songbirds come back.” The first grant will accomplish this goal.

The second grant is to support revitalizing the perimeter of the marsh by planting native shrubs typical of an upland tidal marsh. “It’s these shrubs that are the food source and the nesting place and the resting place for song birds,” she said.

 
Wittner

Councilwoman Phyllis Wittner points out the features of the upland tidal marsh being restored off Preyer Manor Road.

There will be orioles, warblers, and redwing blackbirds like those at the far end of Pryer Manor Road at the site of an earlier conservation project.
Native shrubs, purchased with a federal grant and located with the assistance of Joanne Grossman from Larchmont Nurseries, have attracted a diversity of songbirds.

“It’s really restoring nature to what it was before man interfered with the natural progression,” she said as she conducted a marsh tour for the Gazette.

A striking redwing blackbird showed its approval of the project by flitting in and out of the marsh. But how about the humans – those strolling, power-walking and jogging by, and those whose homes look down on what used to be a large “lake” of open water?

“The walkers – those in the neighborhood and those in Larchmont and Mamaroneck who stroll by love it,” said Wittner. Before the phragmites were removed, all the walkers would have seen were reeds, weeds and, often, illegally dumped trash and tires. Wittner hopes the dumping will stop once people see how beautiful it is.

However the neighbors on Dogwood Lane have been upset to find how little water remains in the marsh at various tides. This is by design. “It’s a tidal marsh and the water level is supposed to fluctuate,” she explained.

“But it looks like a mud flat except at very high tides,” said Andrew Dyson, President of the Pryor Manor Association, which covers the New Rochelle area from “Red Bridge (now painted white) to Dillon Road. “We want it to be nice, to enhance the area, and we believe it can be better than it was,” he said.

“The lake is lovely. I love the lake – the egrets love the lake,” stressed Jack Quinlan, whose multi-level Mediterranean-style home is perched high on rocks overlooking the marsh. But Councilwoman Wittner was concerned about the high water level in evidence on the tour. The marsh "lake" was not far from the low-lying road with its potholes and puddles.

One of the important functions of the marsh is to absorb rainfall. “It works like a huge sponge,” she pointed out. An already soggy sponge would be unable to mop up excess water in a heavy rainfall.

Town of Mamaroneck Administrator Steve Altieri has been meeting with the neighbors and working with the valves letting water in and out of the marsh to find a water level that satisfies both ecological and esthetic concerns. “We don’t want it to be too low and expose the bottom of the marsh,” he said. “But we prefer for the water to be well below the level of the road – particularly at lunar high tides. We don’t want to tempt fate.”

Sorting out issues has required cooperation between the Town of Mamaroneck, City of New Rochelle, and the various neighborhood associations. This sort of cooperation has been a hallmark – and a necessity – for planning and implementing projects along Pryer Manor Road where properties on one side of the road are in New Rochelle and those on the other are in Town of Mamaroneck, and residents drive through the Village of Larchmont on their way home.

“Over the years, as we do more and more things together, I think we build up trust in each other,” pointed out Councilwoman Wittner.

 

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