Windstorm Cleanup


Shenandoah National Park, Sunday March 11, 2018 — About ten days ago a nor’easter ripped through the mid-Atlantic on its way to hammer New England.  Large trees were snapped and uprooted like toothpicks, dragging down power lines as they crashed to earth.  Widespread power outrages bloomed in the winter storm’s aftermath.


Our own electricity in the big city burbs was out for four days thanks to a big old tree that landed in the wrong place.

Soon word spread of massive blowdowns all along the Appalachian Trail, especially in Shenandoah National Park.  What’s a dedicated trail maintainer gonna do except saddle up and ride toward the sound of cracking tree trunks?


This tree snapped near its base, and in the process, blocked a four-way trail junction.  Bucking this 20-inch tree was an interesting puzzle requiring careful attention to safety and a step-by-step approach.

fullsizeoutput_154bStep one was trimming away the smaller branches and reducing the blowdown to its bare structure.


Step two is getting the main trunk on the ground where it’s safer to chop it up.


Step three is reduce the main trunk.  Here, with a top bind, after an initial cut about eight inches deep, wedges are driven to keep the cerf from closing and trapping the saw in the cut.


Wedges in, the job can be finished.


Step four is get the slash off the trail and out of the way.  Best of all, we converted a lot of chainsaw gas into sawdust.

Job. Done.

All told, we cut six blowdowns on the section I maintain.  The subject tree was on the southern end.

After that, we moved to the Indian Run fire road which is the access to the Hoodlum’s maintenance hut.

We quickly picked off three minor blockages on the fire road.


Of course there’s always “that one.”  This 12-incher was draped in vines and it was hollow making it a bit more sketchy to cut.


The approach was to trim away the vines and branches before dicing up the trunk from the top down.


Like dicing vegetables for roasting.


Sliced into small enough chunks to drag off the trail.


Ten obstructive trees were gone.  Then we found this.  This tree is a good 20 inches alone.  It has a twin right behind it. That’s a twofer.  It’s also a “leaner.”  The angle isn’t bad, but this multi-ton tree’s top is hung up requiring care to safely bring it to justice.

The day was getting late.  Fatigue proved the better part of valor and a safety rule red light, so we left the remaining trees for the Hoodlums to tackle on Saturday.



9 thoughts on “Windstorm Cleanup

  1. Hi Sisu,

    I am following a sobo hiker on You-Tube who is in the south end of the park right now. He has reported on blow-down sections, including a “destroyed” section south from Hightop Hut towards Simmons Gap. Brant is hiking the trail from Harpers Ferry to Damascus with his dog Garvey, and his videos are quite good. This last episode, from yesterdays walk, will give you a good indication of the trail condition:

    Thanks for all you and the “Hoodlums” do for the trail, and hikers!

    Canada Goose

  2. My first thought as I started to read was of the many opportunities to get hurt. It is good that didn’t happen. Knowing how to do the job and knowing when to quit while ahead are top level skills.

    • Biannual certification and a safety cudgel help maintain focus. The National Park Service doesn’t like its volunteers maiming and killing themselves. 😇

  3. I was so bummed the group work trip was canceled. Thanks for taking care of the blowdowns on the fire road – that’s part of my section! I owe you!!!! I’m going to try to head down at the end of the month to inspect it he is rest. I had to leaners that I hope are toast now.

    • We are forming an ad hoc group Saturday to help Dave Nebut with Elk Wallow. When we’re done we plan to get the fire road and the AT to the park boundary. The blowdowns left after my last visit were seriously huge and gnarly sawyer work. Stay tuned.

  4. All this is now clear thanks to Park Service and PATC crews. The park has cleared more than 700 blowdowns off the AT. My crew cut 25 with crosscuts on Sunday. Will be back next weekend.

Leave a Reply