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Storm Damage at West Rock

This blowdown was on the Red-White Trail by Lake Wintergreen. On March 8, 2018, I cut the branches hanging down to allow people to walk under the tree.
I returned on March 22, 2018 to cut the tree away from the trail. It was sad to have to cut such a vibrant looking tree, but it was rooted on thin soil and when it fell, most of the roots were pulled out of the ground, giving the tree a dim prospect for survival. Propped against the tree is a Silky Katanaboy 500, an impressive pruning saw that I was using for the first time.
Storms Deliver a Punch to West Rock

West Rock Ridge State Park experienced damage related to two storms in the spring, the March 7 northeaster and the May 15 thunderstorm. Damage from the two storms at West Rock was moderate, as compared to the devastation at Sleeping Giant State Park and on the Quinnipiac Trail from the thunderstorm-related microburst and tornado on May 15.

The northeaster was the first significant storm to affect the trails since Super Storm Sandy in 2012. Pine tree limbs were scattered across the Lake Wintergreen parking lot and the spruce tree in the center of the parking lot was snapped in half.

The hardest hit area was the Red Trail from Lake Wintergreen to Mountain Road, and in particular, the Red Trail from the Purple Trail north to the powerlines. A series of trees on the opposite side of Wintergreen Brook crashed down across the trail, as they were growing in the soft soil along the top of the bank, and the weight of the heavy snow uprooted them. One oak tree completely blocked the trail, while other evergreen trees leaned at an angle with branches hanging down.

The other trails suffered the occasional blowdown, usually a combination of a small tree or shrub (4 inch diameter) that snapped in half with the crown hanging over the trail, or a large tree (10 inches in diameter) that fell across the trail. The White Trail along Lake Wintergreen encountered this type of damage. Other trails were only lightly affected.

Over a series of visits with some help from others, we cleared most of the overhanging limbs, cut back some of the smaller trunks, and opened up some of the larger blowdowns. I also cut away one large hemlock. Weeks later the state cleared the rest of the trees along the Red Trail.

May 15, 2018 Thunderstorm, Tornado and Microburst

The second significant storm to affect West Rock was the thunderstorm on May 15, 2018, which in Beacon Falls, Bethany, and Hamden was an EF-1 tornado with 110 mile per hour winds. The tornado track passed about 2 miles north of West Rock, extending over to Sleeping Giant State Park and Wharton Brook State Park. Those parks suffered extensive damage resulting in their closure to clear fallen and damaged trees. Sleeping Giant may not reopen until the winter 2018 or spring 2019, the damage is so extensive.

Dramatic drone footage of the parking lot damage at Sleeping Giant may be seen here: The Sleeping Giant Park Association has photos of the damage to the park with some 300 trees down, plus progress on the cleanup:

West Rock suffered scattered thunderstorm damage with some large trees down in the northern half of the park, but was relatively unscathed in the southern half from the South Overlook to the Purple Trail. I made 17 visits to the park from May 19 to July 5, to inspect trails and clear any damage, sometimes by myself, and other times with another person.

In the south end of the park as far north as the Purple Trail, the only real damage was a 12-inch diameter pine tree on the Red Trail at the south end of Lake Wintergreen that broke about 10 feet off the ground. Fortunately, only the crown fell on the trail, so another volunteer and I cleared it in a few minutes. The parking lot at Lake Wintergreen was fine with no evidence that anything had fallen, a change from the March storm when large limbs were scattered across the parking lot.

In the northern half of the park, other than the three sections discussed below, from the Purple Trail north to York Mountain, the trails encountered only minor damage. 
I cleared the occasional moderate sized tree or tree crown from the Regicides Trail, and there was nothing to clear on the Sanford Feeder. On the Red Trail between the two sections of Mountain Road, I cleared several small blowdowns (4 to 6 inch diameter trees).

There were six large trees down on the Regicides Trail just north of the Yellow Trail, a volunteer sawyer from the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA) cleared on May 31. These trees were either white pine trees or red oaks and they were uprooted by the wind, all of which fell from west to east. I am not a meteorologist, but I would guess this was caused by a downburst.

There was a large red oak across the Yellow Trail near Baldwin Drive that another volunteer and I cleared with hand tools. In the woods by the top of the Yellow Trail, a number of large oak trees also fell. Three large trees fell across Baldwin Drive, two in the vicinity of the Yellow Trail, and one about a mile north of the Yellow Trail. Jeff cleared one, I cleared a second, and the state cleared a third. I cleared the crowns of two red oak trees near the north end of Baldwin Drive, again using hand tools.

In July, a different volunteer used his chainsaw to clear some large blowdowns remaining from the March storm. These were not a priority to clear because they were not blocking passage along the trail. One was an oak on the Red Trail that was easy to step over, another was an oak on the Red-White Trail near the Field of Dreams near Hill Street that was snapped high enough that people could easily walk under it, and there were three downed oaks to step over on the Regicides Trail.

A blowdown on the Quinnipiac Trail, about 0.3 miles east of Brooks Road, which has been cleared by volunteers.

A fallen tree blocks Baldwin Drive just north of the Yellow Trail, May 23, 2018. This was cleared on May 31.
The tree in the process of being cleared by a volunteer sawyer on May 31, 2018.
The road is now clear for bicyclists and hikers in this area.
A pine tree leans over the Regicides Trail, about a third of a mile north of the Yellow Trail, May 23, 2018.
This was cleared on May 31. This photo was taken June 7. Note that with the weight of the crown removed, the tree partially stood itself back up again.
A red oak trunk partially blocks the Regicides Trail, about a third of a mile north of the Yellow Trail, May 23, 2018.
The oak tree was cleared on May 31 and this photo was taken June 7, 2018.

A pine tree blocks the Regicides Trail, about a quarter a mile north of the Yellow Trail, May 23, 2018.
I cut away the limbs from the pine tree blocking the Regicides Trail, about 0.15 miles north of the Yellow Trail, allowing hikers to step over the left side. I had neither the time, nor the energy, nor the daylight to cut and remove the entire tree as it was nearing 8 p.m. on May 23, 2018. I also cut and removed and cedar tree felled by the pine tree. Just after I took this photo, I removed the dead hemlock beyond the pine tree.
The tree in the process of being cut, as seen from the other angle. The tree was cleared on May 31, 2018. Due to the rain that started falling when the work was completed, I do not have a photo of the cleared area, as I did not want to get my camera wet.
A double-trunked pine tree blocks the Regicides Trail, about a third of a mile north of the Yellow Trail, June 7, 2018.
A volunteer sawyer finishes a cut on the top trunk in this view from the opposite side of the tree on June 7, 2018.
The tree has been cleared as seen from the same direction as the first photo, June 7, 2018.

The crown of this red oak tree partially blocks the Regicides Trail, a bit south of the Purple-Orange Trail in June 2018. This moderate-sized blowdown is more typical of the damage at West Rock from the May thunderstorm.
I cleared the blowdown on June 12, 2018 in about 15 minutes with a handsaw, and used the pieces to block a rocky area above the trail, guiding hikers to stay on the trail.

These photos are all following the March 2018 northeaster. Note to the lack of leaves on the trees.

This photo of a downed red oak tree on the Red Trail is after I spent 35 minutes clearing away smaller limbs on one side. The state cut this open, so the trail is accessible.
This photo of a downed hemlock tree on the Red Trail is after I opened up the limbs enough for people to walk under the tree. The state cleared this one.
The trail gnomes had cut away a couple of branches under this downed hemlock tree on the Red Trail enough for people to squeeze through the tree.
The hemlock tree on the Red Trail after I cut away many of the smaller branches, allowing easy access. The state cleared this one.

This photo shows three problem trees on the White Trail near the junction with the Orange Trail. On March 8, 2018, a friend and I cut the birch tree on the right  sticking up at a 45 degree angle, which was knocked over onto the trail by the red pine tree lying across the trail. That same day, we cut the "horns" off the tree to allow people to more easily step over the fallen trunk. Crossing the entire trail at a 45 degree angle is a dead hemlock, leaning against another tree.

On March 22, 2018, I cut the red pine tree and rolled the trunk off the trail. I cut the hemlock at shoulder height and then threw another tree trunk at the cut. After they crashed to the ground, I cut up the larger tree and put the sections off the trail.

Quinnipiac Trail Devastated by the Storm

As compared to the main section of West Rock, the Quinnipiac Trail on the west side of York Mountain which crosses a mixture of water company land, private property, and isolated blocks of West Rock, suffered extensive damage, as did the dirt section of Downs Road on water company land.
The trail is this area is about three-quarters of mile north of West Rock, so although it was more than a mile south of the tornado track, the strong and devastating winds extended well beyond the storm’s path. 
On a Trails Day hike on June 2, in a three-quarter mile section of this trail, extending from Brooks Road east up the ridge toward the Regicides Trail, I counted about 15 blowdowns, many of them major. A dozen volunteers organized by Elizabeth Buckley, the CFPA Trail Manager for this section of the Quinnipiac Trail, cleared these blowdowns in the first two weeks of June.
As part of a July 26 hike, we walked up the Quinnipiac Trail to the overlook from the shoulder of York Mountain, passing through this area. We appreciated the ease of walking along an open trail.

For those looking for a sense of the storm damage at Sleeping Giant, go 3 miles west from the state park to the Quinnipiac Trail between Downs Road in Hamden and Brooks Road in Bethany, which was also in direct line of the May 15 tornado and microburst. This area is 1.5 miles northwest of the northern boundary of the main part of West Rock, showing how close the park was to being directly affected by the storm.
I hiked this area with friends on July 26 to see how the Quinnipiac Trail was doing, as volunteers and staff from the Connecticut Forest and Park Association had cleared much of the damage, but still had work to do in the powerlines area.
 In some sections, large oak trees with diameters as large as 18 inches were blown down every 10 to 15 feet. We could not find our way through the section that had not been cleared and bushwhacked out to the powerlines, rejoining the trail where it had been cleared.
In the cleared areas, piles of logs next to cut trees showed the damage, while in the other areas, we navigated over tree trunks, under downed tree crowns, and around the base of toppled trees with root balls standing taller than us. We eventually gave up navigating the maze and used the tree-less powerline area to reconnect to the trail south of the powerlines where it had been cleared.
According to Elizabeth, throughout this time period, Ralph Fink, the CFPA volunteer trail manager for this section, organized at least a dozen different work crews with CFPA trained sawyers and other volunteers to clear the trail. As of mid-August, the Q Trail was clear in this area. This included a section that was relocated from private land to water company land.

On the way back, we decided to walk Brooks Road to Carmel Road to Downs Road, not wanting to navigate the Quinnipiac Trail. However, the damage along Downs Road across Regional Water Authority property between two sets of gates, was even worse. Oak trees as large as two feet in diameter completely blocked the road. In some sections, the trees were lined up like patients in a sick ward, with enough roots attached to the ground that they still had leaves.
I contacted the RWA about its plans to harvest the logs from this area, and said they have a priority list across their properties and there are no immediate plans to log this area, as they are harvesting trees on other properties. I hope they can make good use of the logs, rather than seeing them rot away.
According to Elizabeth, the Rocky Top section of the Quinnipiac Trail between Kimberly Rd and Rocky Top Road was also massively impacted by the tornado.  She told the CFPA about 20 significant blowdowns blocking the trail. In response, CFPA staff member Colin Carroll and Al Sedor turned out on May 23, and cleared the whole of Rocky Top in one marathon day, allowing a June 3 Trails Day hike led by naturalist Jim Sirch to take place.
The conclusion is that even if the state opened Sleeping Giant to public use before all the trails were cleared, it would not be a fun experience. For even the most enthusiastic hiker, after a while, it becomes tedious to navigate around yet another set of downed trees. If you want to get a sense of the damage, park near the cul-de-sac for Downs Road and follow the road. You won't get far before you have to either turn back or navigate around the downed trees.
This video that a friend shot on that day catalogs the damage:

A sign for the Quinnipiac Trail at the Downs Road trailhead warns of trail damage, July 26, 2018. The sign has since been removed, since the trail is now clear.
Snapped trees are visible to the west from the dirt portion of Downs Road, between Hoadley Road and Gaylord Mountain Road, July 26, 2018.
An unrooted tree along the Quinnipiac Trail, 0.6 miles south of the Downs Road trailhead, with cleared trees visible ahead, July 26, 2018.

Just off the Quinnipiac Trail, 0.8 miles south of the Downs Road trailhead, a line of trees lies down on the grown, July 26, 2018.

Snapped and uprooted trees are visible from an uncleared section of the Quinnipiac Trail, 0.9 miles south of the Downs Road trailhead, July 26, 2018. The trail is now passable in this area.

Piles of cut logs line the Quinnipiac Trail, 0.1 miles east of Brooks Road, July 28, 2018.

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