Shenandoah Ice Storm Clean up II

Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive near Thornton Gap, December 29, 2022 —  Could a wood chipper be a bird?  The name sounds like it might be.  In this case the yellow breasted wood chipper is a machine whose song sounds like it is loudly clearing its throat every time you stuff a chunk of wood into its famished gut.  Hearing protection required.

IMG_0009A dozen Hoodlums gathered Thursday to answer the park’s call for volunteer help.

We come organized teams, trained, equipped with organic leadership and experience following park safety protocols.  We require no supervision in most cases, but we’re used to working along side our park service counterparts.  It really doesn’t get better than that.

On Thursday, we divided into two teams, a small chainsaw team and the larger group to feed the chipper starting at Thornton Gap, headed north toward Beahms Gap.

IMG_0018

There’s more wood down than one would imagine.  It’s important to clear, not only the drive, but the road margins where seasonal mowers need to work.  In some places, that doubles the area requiring clean up.

It’s a slow, mind-numbing stoop labor dance done to the brrrrrrrt and rhythm of the wood chipper’s song.  Hey, somebody’s got to do it and it brings us together for another adventure.

IMG_0016

In some places the sun has melted the ice and snow while in those mostly shady areas, in spite of the higher temperatures the past couple of days, it’s going to be awhile before the ice and snow are gone.

It’s like a chain gang on an endless play loop – see stick, walk to stick, pick up stick, take stick to chipper, put stick into chipper, chipper burps thank you – played over and over.

IMG_0025

The park served us a warm lunch at the Pass Mountain overlook.  We could finally reminisce with our ear muffs off.  Then we were back at it.

IMG_0020

Team work as Wayne Limberg, AT District Manager, and Caroline Egli stuff the chipper.

IMG_0034

At one point the chipper broke.  My completely uninformed guess is a sheer pin.  Fortunately a spare was strategically located at Thornton Gap.  Unfortunately is was a less powerful model that seemed to regurgitate mulch rather than spray it.  While we were waiting we decided to dump some logs into the woods.

Looking at the large logs, I was thinking it was a good time to capture some video for this blog.  For the record, I rolled my share over the edge.  Note the sound of the frozen green log as it hits the icy pavement.

Not all logs are equal.

New chipper at work.  The flywheel takes a bit to recover energy.  The line looks like restroom queue.

IMG_0044

Shortly after 3 p.m., we called it a day.  The Hoodlums would be back in the morning.

Sisu

Shenandoah Ice Storm Clean up

Photo Dec 20 2022, 2 47 10 PM

Shenandoah National Park, End of December, 2022 — The ice storm from a week ago made Skyline Drive look like a combat zone. Hundreds and hundreds of trees and branches are down along all 105 miles of road that meanders along the ridgeline that forms the backbone of the park’s geography.

Damage reports suggest that the north district from Front Royal to Swift Run Gap seems to have been hit the hardest.

The park leadership assessed the damage and asked qualified volunteers to join the clean up effort.  That request is a testament to the integration of PATC volunteers into park operations and the faith the park has in our ability to deliver value when we are asked to help.

It’s obvious from the photo that the clean up is a labor intensive effort.  Each one of those branches and tree trunks has to be removed from the roadway.  The roadsides also have to be cleared to the treeline so that mowers can operate in the growing season.  That is a lot of stoop labor.

Those of us who normally work on trails learned a lot about the process of cleaning up the “drive” after a storm.  Here’s a hint:  They use a lot of “big boy” toys – bucket trucks, graspers, chippers, and loaders in addition to chainsaws, loppers, pruning saws, and rakes.

The larger debris gets piled up to be loaded into large dump trucks and hauled to the park boneyard.

IMG_9980

The lesser debris is fed into a chipper, thereby speeding up the circle of life by feeding the forest back to itself as mulch.  We learned a lot thanks to our park service partners.

Although there always seems to be a chipper operating in my urban-forested neighborhood, I never gave them much thought.  Now I know they’re driven by a giant flywheel and grinders capable of crunching 15-inch logs with ease!  We even learned how to clear jams and reset them.  Hearing protection is mandatory.  Them suckers is loud!!!

While PATC volunteers were helping in other areas of the park, the North District Hoodlums answered the call in their home territory.  I think the park expected that we would have only enough to help feed the chipper.

IMG_9989

We beat that expectation and divided ourselves up into two groups, one to stuff the chipper and the other to clear the area around the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center followed by work on the drive.

IMG_9982

By lunch time, the chipping was nearly done.  We decided to finish chipping and then join forces for the remainder of the day.

As you can see, it’s tedious work.

Photo Dec 20 2022, 2 44 10 PM

As the day ended, your enthusiastic volunteers dragged their tired butts back to the rendezvous point.  We finished chipping the first four miles of Skyline from Front Royal to Dickey Ridge.  We cleared the drive four more miles beyond, nearly to mile post 9.

This blog is written to offer insight into what goes on behind the scenes.  This was another peek.  Judging by what’s left and the potential damage of today’s bomb cyclone storm, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Thanks to Wayne Limberg, Cindy Ardecki, Justin Corddry, Dan Hippe, Tom Moran and our National Park Service colleagues.  They supplied good company, shared some of these photos and and cared enough to volunteer their time and expertise.

Sisu