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.
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.
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.
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.
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.