Tornadoes have changed state’s landscape
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.”