Rebuilding After Sandy: How The National Park Service Is Putting The Pieces Back Together Again

Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Eastern Seaboard much like a right hook last October. Today the National Park Service continues to rebuild, in many cases with the potential for similar storm events in mind. NASA photo.

Today, four months after Hurricane Sandy battered and bruised the Eastern Seaboard, the disarray the storm delivered across many units of the National Park System continues to be cleaned up. Some damage remains to be discovered. And though summer remains months away, some units will be severely challenged to be fully operational by Memorial Day.

The Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area likely was the most-battered part of the park system, and how functional that popular arm of sand on the New Jersey coast will be come Memorial Day isn't entirely clear. The row of officer's quarters at historic Fort Hancock suffered water damage, and related oil damage when heating oil tanks were overturned; the bike path remains under drifts of sand; telpehone systems were knocked out. Some decisions on repairs to facilities remain to be made, an estimated 20,000 truckloads of sand need to be hauled out, and restroom facilities aren't expected to be operational due to damage sustained by the park's wastewater treatment system.

On Fire Island National Seashore off Long Island, a breach ripped through Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness remains open, mixing the cold Atlantic waters with those of Great South Bay. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be monitored. Boardwalks that lead you down across the dunes to beaches were sheared off by the storm and need to be replaced, marina facilities were damaged, and dunescapes were significantly rearranged by the storm.

Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York Harbor remains closed with no reopening date set. Sandy ripped brick pavers from Liberty Island's walkways, destroyed the island's dock, and inundated electrical systems with salt water.

While Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey was able to reopen within a month of the storm's arrival in October, the park lost scores of trees to the hurricane.

In Virginia, Manasas National Battlefield Park also had hundreds of trees felled by the storm, a common predicament for inland units of the park system. At Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., the creek took on the appearance of a white-water slalom course due to storm waters, which swept trees and soils down the water course.

It took Congress until late January to approve nearly $350 million in supplemental funding to enable the Park Service to repair the damage, and that delay put the agency in a holding pattern since it didn't know how much money it would have to work with. And now, as more of the storm damage is being uncovered, the costs could escalate beyond that sum and force park officials to scale back some of their work.

But moving forward in the aftermath of Sandy offers the Park Service an opportunity not only to repair the damage, but to do so with an eye towards similar storms that climate change might spawn, not to mention the sea level rise that will encroach upon the national seashores and other park units already at or near sea level.

Not all decisions -- such as the move to portable structures and facilities being installed at Assateague Islands National Seashore along the Maryland-Virginia coast and Everglades National Park -- are overly difficult.

But at Gateway, for instance, officials must decide which of their 600-odd historic structures can be saved and which cannot. With the potential for storms as strong, or stronger, as Sandy, officials there are reviewing how unique their structures are, compared to others in the park system, as well as whether all of the existing structures can be preserved or if some already could be considered "ruined."

In a coming series of stories, the Traveler will look at the impacts of Sandy, how Park Service officials are looking to the future, and what advice outside stakeholders have to offer.

Coming Friday: The Breach At Fire Island National Seashore

Breakdown of storm-related costs by National Park System Unit

Fire Island National Seashore


Gateway NRA


Africa Burial Ground National Monument


Castle Clinton


Governor's Island


St. Paul's Church


Sagamore Hill NHS


Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island


Other - Northeast


Assateague Island National Seashore


Morristown NHP


Antietam National Battlefield


Arlington House National Memorial


C&O Canal NHP


Catoctin Mountain Park


GW Memorial Parkway


Harpers Ferry NHP


Manassas National Battlefield Park


Prince William Forest Park


Rock Creek Park


Wolf Trap National Park For the Performing Arts


President's Park/White House


Canaveral National Seashore


Cape Hatteras National Seashore


Cape Lookout National Seashore


Biscayne Bay National Park


Dry Tortugas National Park


NPS Total