Crow’s Nest: Storm cleanup complete (this time)

May 10, 2020

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

On Thursday, April 30 we experienced a day of high winds and storms. The power didn’t go out (partly due to good tree management by First Energy, our regional electric utility company) but we did have a series of trees come down across our 7+ miles of trails. There were a couple small trees down on the Creek Trail, a branch blocking the trail to the kids’ play area across the creek, and a dead tree that fell across a trail into a farm field.

Usually when one tree falls in a forest it takes others with it. If it’s just falling in the forest, that’s not a problem—its when it falls on a trail, or worse, gets hung up over a trail, that is a problem. Above, a red maple fell and took down a dying ash, blocking a road at Warwick Woods.

We also had snags hung up over the Hopewell Trail, the Fox Hill Trail, and the Horse-Shoe Trail. Each took careful planning and a fair amount of time to safely address. Below, “mischief managed” on the Hopewell Trail, where a red maple fell on top of a black birch over and blocking the trail. I was amazed by how many people were using this trail, off near the edge of the preserve where it provides a connection to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. Ideally when I’m finished the branches are scattered and the woods don’t look too terrible. Plus the opening in the canopy will stimulate other plants to grow.

Then there was this very large red maple, upon which I had just posted a new sign, along the Horse-Shoe Trail in a forest we recently added to the preserve near Warwick Woods. It snapped off about 12 feet up and took three other trees partway down over the trail at the other end of this trunk.

Horse-Shoe Trail Conservancy trail maintainer Jamie Hutchinson had already cleared some branches off the trail so people could pass. I used a power pole pruner, rope, and chainsaw to get the load off these trees and take down the one snapped like a soda straw. This is along the newly-improved section of trail where the Horse-Shoe Trail reaches Mine Run.

Three hours of sweating, perhaps a bit of cursing, and help from preserve intern Alec Moloznik and we got the damaged trees down. Believe it or not, the slim tree with the blaze on it was about 90 years old; it proved to be the trickiest of them. I often count the rings of trees I cut down as a way of paying respect to them. This had the tiniest ring increments I’ve ever seen, but is typical of slow-growing forest trees in shaded competition. This one was already dead and clearly couldn’t stay next to the trail in its damaged condition.

Maybe you’ve also noticed a common theme: many of the trees that fell first were red maples. This is not entirely surprising since it is one of the more common species at the preserve, and it also flowers and begins to leaf out early so there’s more weight up high in the canopy at this time of year. And it’s not known to have as strong a trunk as say, an oak. But I would have expected dying ash trees to have played a larger role instigating this round of cleanup.

We will shortly begin another round of ash tree removals along the roads, to prevent these kinds of problems in the public right-of-way.