Protecting shoreline access on threatened coastal roads

Guest Blog by: Tom O’Shea, Director of Coast & Natural Resources, Trustees of Reservations

When you think of coast, what comes to mind?

Our shorelines and coastal landscapes are many things, to many people. They are places of relaxation, destinations for recreation, and complex ecosystems supporting livelihoods and local economies. They are also some of the most dynamic landscapes, changing with the winds, seasons and tides.

These landscapes are on the “front lines” of climate change, and a first barrier to the rising seas and increased flooding events we see today and will continue to see in the future. Our barrier beaches, our salt marshes, and our coastal banks are all examples of landscapes that protect jobs, homes, businesses, and places of historic and cultural importance, from rising tides.

On the North Shore of Massachusetts, in a town called Ipswich, sits a unique coastal property, called The Crane Estate, which encompasses many different uses, and coastal features—and their associated challenges. One of 118 properties managed by The Trustees of Reservations, the largest private landowner of protected coastline in the state, it encompasses 2,100 acres, including salt marsh, barrier beach, wildlife refuge, gardens, and historic estate. But access to this site, like hundreds of other coastal roads around the state, is under threat from daily tidal inundation.

Argilla Road is the only access point for vehicles going to Crane Beach, or the Crane Estate. The hundreds of thousands who visit each year are a mix of visitors, beachgoers, residents, and fishermen. It’s also a vital access road for emergency services who need to access the dock or beach. After conducting a Coastal Vulnerability Assessment with Woods Hole Group in 2017, The Trustees found that this area is one of our sites most susceptible to the effects of climate change, including sea level rise.  

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Our response to this threat is a coordinated, collaborative approach. Working with the Town of Ipswich we are now in Phase II of a project to raise portions of this road, and extend its lifespan by at least another generation—or roughly 50 years. Along with raising the level of the pavement, our team is planning for nature-based designs to protect the side slopes of the elevated road from erosion, and also will replace a culvert under Argilla Road and install a series of marsh culverts to allow for greater exchange of tidal flow across the road and even migration of the salt marsh downstream. Our work is funded by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), which views the project as a statewide priority, and an opportunity to pilot an innovative approach that will provide a roadmap for building resilience in similar coastal roads across the state. 

I invite you to explore the Storymap below, for a visual of what this project entails, to visit the for more information about our coastal work and strategy, and encourage you to reach out to with any questions.