Tornadoes have changed state’s land­scape

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - ROBERT MILLER Con­tact Robert Miller at eargth­mat­ter­srgm@gmail.com.

Steve Dusen­berry, chain­saw in hand, was clear­ing downed tree limbs the other day from the wreck of a neigh­bor­hood on Sleepy Hill Road in South­bury.

Dusen­berry, from Clarksville, Tenn., vol­un­teers with the South­ern Bap­tist Dis­as­ter Re­lief Team, which helps peo­ple what­ever the calamity .

He has learned never to com­pare dis­as­ters, or to con­sole peo­ple by telling them sto­ries of other shat­tered places he has seen.

When all the trees are down in your yard, and your neigh­bor’s yard, the here­and- now mat­ters.

“Each dis­as­ter is per­sonal,” he said.

The tornadoes and mac­robursts that ripped through the state last month killed two peo­ple. It downed thou­sands of trees — send­ing many on the roofs of homes that will need a lot of re­pair. It left thou­sands of res­i­dents liv­ing a messy, weary life with­out power day af­ter day. It was per­sonal.

It also changed the land­scape. The green­ery is gone.

At Ket­tle­town State Park in South­bury last week, Edwin Ne­gron had set up tents for his fam­ily — the same camp­site for the same week in June that is part of the rhythm of his fam­ily’s life.

But the park is dif­fer­ent. It lost be­tween 50 and 100 trees in the storm. The state Depart­ment of En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion did a great job of get­ting the place open, Ne­gron said, but shade trees are now stumps.

“There was a beau­ti­ful sy­camore over there,” Ne­gron said. “It’s gone.”

Con­necti­cut’s forests have been rav­aged by tornadoes and hur­ri­canes and fires and floods since trees be­gan to grow here. Seedlings thrive in the open­ings storms leave be­hind. The woods re­turn.

“There are forests in Con­necti­cut that we can start ag­ing back to the flood of 1955,” said Eric Ham­mer­ling, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Con­necti­cut For­est and Park As­so­ci­a­tion.

In Corn­wall, the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Con­necti­cut owns the once- ma­jes­tic Cathe­dral Pines pre­serve — the largest stand of old­growth white pines in the state.

In 1989, tornadoes dec­i­mated Cathe­dral Pines. But rather than clear the land, the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy de­cided to let things grow in and around the fallen trunks. For many years, the Yale School of Forestry and En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies sent re­searchers there to chart the re­growth.

Ellen Denny was a grad­u­ate stu­dent who par­tic­i­pated in the Yale re­search in 2003. What they found, she said, was a thriv­ing wood­land — not white pines, but black and yel­low birch, red and sugar maple and hem­locks.

“You don’t get ex­actly what you had be­fore,” she said. “But forests are very re­silient.”

Last month’s tornadoes treated New­town’s Lau­rel Trail pre­serve in Sandy Hook the same way the 1989 storms treated Cathe­dral Pines. It was as if a big hand moved down the hill­side bor­der­ing Lake Zoar and just flat­tened all its trees.

Rob Si­b­ley, New­town’s deputy di­rec­tor of plan­ning, said the town used its money and a state grant to pre­serve the land there from de­vel­op­ment.

“That’s an­other ad­van­tage of pre­serv­ing open space,” he said. “You don’t need a tree ser­vice.”

Now, he said, the land can re­store it­self.

“Our to­pog­ra­phy isn’t con­ducive to any­thing but trees,” he said.

Dusen­berry, of the South­ern Bap­tist Dis­as­ter Re­lief Team, said when peo­ple re­cover from the storm they’ll see that as well.

“It will take a long time,” he said. “But the trees will grow back.”

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