Poplar Island and Draper Aden Associates: A Success Story

When a barrier island fades away and disappears—whether due to natural or human-influenced causes—it’s rare that it’s given a second chance to reappear. Thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Port Administration, along with help, in part, by Draper Aden Associates, one such success story exists—Poplar Island.

Poplar Island - main img Located some 34 miles southeast of Baltimore, Poplar Island is now a textbook example of barrier island restoration gone right. Up until the 1920s, the Island was home to a small community of fishers and farmers and then, eventually, acted as a hunting retreat until 1946. During that time however, the island quickly eroded, a natural process intensified by rising sea levels, and by 1990, only five of the original 1,100 acres remained.

Talks began in the early 1990s to establish a restoration plan for Poplar Island. Given that the Port of Baltimore dredges an estimated 4.7 million cubic yards of sediment from the Bay annually, it made sense to transfer that dredged material to the island in order to build it up again. A series of dikes were constructed around the island to contain the dredged material which then dried and caked before wetland grasses and other vegetation were be planted.

Teaming with Kieweit Construction during the first phase of the project (1998-2000), Draper Aden Associates conducted bathymetric analyses, prepared stakeouts and conducted as-builts for the island’s Poplar Island Survey Workmain spillway as well as access channels, levees, habitat islands, personnel pier, sand tubes and roadways. This work was integral to shaping the island’s new skeleton for the containing the dredged material. During the second phase (2001), DAA worked with Home Engineering Services to provide GPS surveying, as-builts, stake-out surveying and cross sections and volumes for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ review.

Although the restoration process is ongoing—with an estimated completion in 2041—to-date over 175 species of shorebirds, songbirds, waterfowl and raptors visit the island for shelter and food, along with a burgeoning population of diamondback terrapin turtles. From creating new wildlife habitat to serving as an important buffer for the mainland against hurricanes, Poplar Island is once again an integral part of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, and Draper Aden Associates is proud to have helped restore this island back to its original state.