“What’s left are things that you can either go around, step over or duck under,” said Bonnie Pease of the remaining downed trees and debris on the Milton Town Forest trails.
Pease is a commissioner on Milton’s Conservation Commission. After the windstorm in late October, her husband, Brian, was out with his chainsaw clearing branches and limbing and removing tree trunks that had fallen across the trails.
“This was hurricane-force winds that were sustained and mainly hit the tall trees,” Brian Pease said. “I figured I’ve cut about 100 trees so far.”
The story is a familiar one to recreation staff and conservation commissioners in Colchester and Essex, too, where trees made some recreation paths impassable. In Milton, Brian Pease said oaks, pines and hemlocks bore the brunt of the wind, and many were completely uprooted.
“It was pretty devastating. As long as we’ve been here, 11 years, I’ve never seen this quantity of trees down. Even during the big ice storm,” he said.
Bonnie Pease said after the town initially closed the trails, they were quickly reopened with warnings, advising people to use caution.
“We really can’t close them. People are going to go nuts,” she said.
Bonnie Pease said hunting season was underway and is permitted at the Milton Town Forest. Some hunters, she said, have gotten stuck out on the trails after killing a deer. She heard it took one hunter five hours to drag a deer out of the forest.
Bonnie Pease said all of the trails at the town forest, Eagle Mountain Natural Area and the Lamoille River Walk are open and being used. She said clearing trails is mainly “up to volunteers” and that her husband cleared all of the trails at the Milton Town Forest.
“His motive is he likes to ski the trails, so he has an incentive to do it before the snow flies,” she said.
Ben Nappi, Milton’s assistant recreation coordinator, said an estimated 180-250 trees fell on town parks and trails during the storm. He said a complete inventory of the damage hasn’t happened, and anyone using the trails should do so with caution.
Nappi said getting winter trucks ready and roadsides clear for the plowing season has taken priority over the recreational trails.
“It probably won’t be until spring when public works and town employees can get out there and really clean up,” he said.
Colchester Parks and Recreation director Glenn Cuttitta said there was no significant damage to town parks and trails during the storm.
A notice was posted on the parks and recreation’s Facebook page on October 30 to use caution if using the trails and bike paths.
“We got really lucky,” said Theresa Carroll, who chairs Colchester’s Conservation Commission.
Carroll said she walked the Rossetti Natural Area, and besides a few trees and limbs down, it was in pretty good shape. She said the Colchester Pond area got hit the hardest.
“If you drew a line from southwest of Colchester Pond, right over to Lady of Grace Church, it looks like someone just took a sword and cut the trees down,” she said.
Rob Peterson, the northwest parks regional manager with the Vt. Department of Forests Parks and Recreation, organized the cleanup at the state’s Niquette Bay State Park.
Peterson said the trails are not accessible by vehicle and that his team walked over five-and-a-half miles in a single day carrying chainsaws and removing over 30 trees.
“It was 130 hours of time, a lot of hiking, a lot of steps, and to be honest, a lot of tired, hardworking public employees,” he said.
Peterson said a protection forester will survey the trees his team couldn’t safely clear and make recommendations as to which ones should be removed. Tree removal companies will competitively bid on the work.
“This is a neighborhood park frequented by people year round. We want to make sure the park is a safe environment for those people,” he said.
Peterson said he was fortunate to have an exceptional maintenance crew and the resources to respond quickly and clear the trails.
“Hopefully we don’t have any events like that again any time soon,” he said.
In Essex, Fort Ethan Allen Park, Pearl Street Park, Mountain View Cemetery, Essex Commons Cemetery and Indian Brook Park were all dealt a blow during the storm.
With the exception of Indian Brook, the parks and cemeteries were cleared quickly and never closed.
Essex Parks and Recreation director Ally Vile said despite closing Indian Brook Park, it is still being used. One Sunday the parking lot was packed, she said.
“We put signs and barricades up at the trailhead, and people are still going. It’s upsetting, but it’s hard to give up something you really love and that you’re going to do in your routine schedule,” she said.
On November 24, a message appeared on the town’s Facebook page updating pass holders and the public that a crew cleared 66 trees around the main trail, making it “almost fully passable.”
“At this time, we are updating our trail status to open the main, perimeter trail (white trail) around the reservoir only,” the post reads. “If you choose to go to the park, please stay on the white trail only. The upper and outer loop trails are still impassable, and we will need additional time to clear the storm damage.”
Vile said they made communicating to pass holders a priority after the storm and during the cleanup. The town is asking for patience as the work continues.