Hunt and scores of other Salisbury summer and year-round residents can tell hundreds of stories about the plentiful beach they played on and enjoyed in bygone days, when Salisbury Beach hummed with beachfront resorts that drew thousands of tourists. And they can tell more stories still about the yards of beach that no longer exist.
Their recollections are backed up by data gathered by the state's Office of Coastal Zone Management's Historic Shoreline Change Project, which has been tracking the changes all along the Massachusetts coast. The map displays some general trends — for instance, the entire beach grew from the 1950s through the late 1970s, in some areas by as much as 150 feet. But the Blizzard of 1978 started a general cascade of erosion all along the beach.
The CZM map also makes it clear that the worst-hit areas are along the southern end of the beach. For example:
r In front of the old pavilion at Salisbury Beach Reservation, the beach shrunk by 188 feet between 1928 and 1994. The year 1994 is the most recent data year.
r A half mile to the north, at the Beach Center, the beach eroded 103 feet from 1928 through 1994.
r At the Seabrook, N.H., line, the beach grew 167 feet between 1912 and 1994.
Erosion isn't strange for a barrier beach like Salisbury, according to Tom Hughes, chairman of Salisbury's Conservation Commission and owner of Hughes Environmental Consulting.
"A barrier beach is a dynamic system; it's always moving," Hughes said. "Barrier beaches stay healthy by moving. Houses aren't dynamic; they're static. You have erosion when the beach wants to move and the houses don't."
Salisbury Beach is much more densely developed than Plum Island. On the island, most homes stand on lots that are at least 4,900 square feet. On Salisbury Beach, many lots are half, or even a quarter of, that size, and houses are tightly packed together.