Prince William Forest National Park, VA, January 2022 — The mid-Atlantic experiences a wide range of weather. The the spring flowers are spectacular, summers are hot and humid, the autumns colorful, and the winters – well let me tell you.
The National Capitol Region winters are really mild until they aren’t. Remember those icy presidential inaugurations?
About every fifth year or so the snow gods like to play around with us. They want to find out how much heavy, wet snow we can take. As I remind them, nobody is actually from around here. We come from cold hard places named Buffalo, Missoula, Bangor, Fairbanks, Leadville, Minneapolis and the grand daddy of them all, International Falls. We know how to sharpen our snow shovels and win the fight.
Sadly the trees are from around here. They’re not so tough. Wind, ice and heavy wet snow play hell with the soft and brittle ones. The rocky soil and shallow roots don’t help the cause.
Recently we experienced a classic nor’ easter, a storm fed by tropical waters that rolls up the Blue Ridge carpet bombing havoc all along the trace of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. In this case, it slid a little to the east missing the AT for the most part. It did clobber a neat little gem of a park just outside the Marine base at Quantico, VA.
Info on Prince William Forest Park
Thousands of trees are down or broken. Large limbs have been ripped from trunks. The hiking trails, which for trail runners are the best in the region, are impassable.
Cue Task Force Snowmegedon, an ad hoc collection of PATC chain sawyers who gathered from near and far to turn blowdowns into sawdust. We’ve been at it for the better part of two weeks with at least another week to go.
The ratio of tree crowns, sometimes called “rats nests” blocking the path, to the number of large tree trunks is rather large. Regardless, there are plenty of large trees blocking the trail.
These are live trees. They bind in ways unlike the dried out dead ones do. We’ve learned that pole saws are much safer to use as we wade into these rats nests. The stand off distance from branches that sometimes whip when their energy is released is a godsend.
This was the Mother of all Blowdowns for last week. It was complex and full of stored energy as the branches flexed in different directions when they fell.
Bind, or the way a tree is compressed, is sometimes difficult to read, even for the most experienced sawyers. The large branch that pinched and trapped this saw moved horizontally away from the sawyer. We unbolted the powerhead and made a vertical cut on the opposite side which released the pressure and the bar.
This video is worth watching to the end. It’s approximately three minutes long. The sawyer is National Park Service Ranger Mike Custodio, who is responsible for roads and trails in the park. He’s tackling this one because his saw is the only one long enough to take on the mammoth trunk. His objective is to get the trunk on the ground where it will be easier and safer to clear.
Mike knows how this tree is going to behave based on the size of the root ball and its angle. This is his plan of attack:
First Mike clears two saplings on the far side of the trunk to ensure the nose of his saw doesn’t hit them and dangerously kick back.
Second he makes a large pie cut on top of the trunk to allow room for the tree’s eventual behavior.
Third Mike makes an undercut to prevent a “barber chair” split when the trunk is cut through.
Fourth, Mike is very cautious as he makes his reverse keystone cut to allow the tree to behave without binding. This tree is going to release a lot of energy and he wants to live to tell the tale.
Fifth, watch all of the video. There is a surprise ending. No spoiler alerts.
Lunchtime planning session.
Lunch on various days.
Another one bites the dust.
Our newest sawyer scores a KO!
Part of the park visitors don’t see.
Instructor/evaluator sawyer, Robert Fina’s master class.
We’ll be back again next week.