Oak Openings still dealing with summer tornado damageWritten by Sue MacPhee-Gray | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On the night of June 5 and into the early hours of the next morning, a line of violent storms blasted through Northwest Ohio. The worst weather missed Toledo proper, but the system spawned several tornadoes, one of which tore a path of destruction through Oak Openings Preserve.
Lorilie Roche of Swan Creek Stables (not affiliated with Metroparks of the Toledo Area), leads groups on horseback through beautiful stands of hardwood and pine and then past areas of stark devastation. Many of the trees have been literally ripped in half, yet are still upright with short, sheared branches lifting up to the sky. Others were wrenched and twisted out of the ground, felled giants with entire root systems exposed.
Scott Carpenter, public relations director of Metroparks of the Toledo Area, said, “The path of destruction was in about a 200-acre stretch of the park, with roughly 100 acres being the hardest hit.
“Surprisingly, no park buildings were harmed, and the damage was mainly trees; some of the trees blocked roads and trails,” Carpenter said.
T&R Logging of Hamden, Ohio was hired to remove the fallen wood and selected trees that are damaged and will not survive long term. Carpenter said T&R pays Metroparks for the wood it takes out, and that money will be used to plant trees and restore the areas damaged by the tornado.
The trees being removed and the speed of the removal have caused some concern among area residents.
“The disagreement is about which trees should be left and/or taken out,” Carpenter said. “Some are not going to survive, so it makes sense to go in only once and take them all out. It’s ironic, the two sides both love the park but they disagree about the way to do it.”
Metroparks of the Toledo Area hosted a town hall meeting at the preserve’s Lodge on Oct. 25 to clarify the cleanup process and allay the concerns of park enthusiasts.
“The overriding concern was ‘how do we hold the contractor accountable for taking down only trees that need to be taken down?” Everyone understood about the dead fallen ones, but the ones left standing were the source of some concern,” Carpenter said.
One reason seemingly healthy trees might need to be removed is the specter of oak wilt. An open wound on an otherwise healthy-looking tree makes it susceptible to this disease. If only one tree contracts the disease, it can spread easily to others via the root systems.
Some questioned whether park management was using the controversial tree removal method called “clear-cutting,” which is done to generate new growth. Carpenter said some areas are so heavily damaged “that it may appear that we are [clear-cutting], but we are definitely not.”
Tim Gallaher, Metroparks director of land management, said “the tornado spanned several habitats, so several management programs are required” and that managing natural resources can be a complicated, sometimes confusing process.
After the meeting, the cleanup operation was put on hold for a short time to reassess the process and ensure that citizens’ concerns were addressed.
On Oct. 26, Dan Rettig, director of Metroparks of the Toledo Area, published a letter on metroparkstoledo.com. The letter contains details on how the cleanup will be conducted going forward. A major addition to the process that should go a long way in allaying the fears of park enthusiasts is that park management will hold tours of recently cleared areas each Saturday through November to ensure residents are kept apprised of all cleanup activities. In addition, updates will be posted weekly on the park website featuring cleanup locations and the level of removal required.
Rettig’s letter also describes revisions in the contract with T&R Logging, specifically in the criteria for tree removal (a thorough definition of “storm-damaged trees”).
“The folks who came to the meeting want accountability and so do we,” Carpenter said. “We’re just going to communicate better so everyone concerned is more comfortable with what we’re doing.”
The first tour of recently cleared areas took place Oct. 30. Forty-four people attended, including Carpenter, Gallaher and a number of area residents.
“There were a lot of questions as to how it works. We showed what we meant by damaged trees, using examples. They could see how the logging operation works and the equipment,” Carpenter said.
“We had 44 people, including a lot of the folks who had attended the meeting the previous Monday,” Carpenter said. “It was good for everyone to see exactly what we were talking about for better or worse. It put in perspective a little bit what we’re up against with the damage.”