When Hurricane Sandy blasted Stokes State Forest, it took down thousands of oaks, ashes, pines and maples. To make the best of the disaster, the New Jersey State Park Service will use the wood for future projects and repairs in parks throughout northern part of the state, the New Jersey Herald reported.
“The state parks suffered minor damage, but Stokes got decimated,” said State Park Service Project Specialist Frank Hennion.
On Nov. 11, Hennion was recruited to head Stokes’ massive cleanup, which was assisted by nine Virginia state park employees to cut, clear and chip the profuse amount of wood in the park’s recreation areas, including campgrounds. Hennion and the Virginia crew are being funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“(The downed trees) were (piled) 15 feet high,” Hennion said. “It was so dense, you couldn’t walk through it. Our state park people never would have been able to do this. It would have taken years.”
State Park Regional Superintendent Steve Ellis said it will be months before the rest of the trees are cleared from Stokes.
Further, residents will be invited to go and collect the downed hardwoods — ash, oak, hickory and red maple — for firewood. Hennion said residents should go to the park office to obtain a salvage permit before collecting the wood.
Saw logs, such as the spruces and red pines, are being stacked in large piles throughout the park to be used as lumber for rebuilding lean-tos, making picnic tables, fence posts and sign markers, and repairing buildings.
Hennion said a portable sawmill will likely be brought into the park to produce boards valued at $2 a foot. He estimates that the downed trees will yield 15,000 feet of boards, or about $30,000 worth of lumber.
Instead of purchasing lumber for future repairs and projects, the State Park Service can tap into its surplus of resources produced by Sandy and save thousands of dollars.
“(The campgrounds) looked like pick-up sticks,” Hennion said, describing the wreckage before the Virginia crew helped remedy it.
Twenty-foot red pines, not native to the area, fell like dominoes. Hennion said the pines were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, but far too close to one another, set at 6 to 8 feet apart. Over the years, they were never thinned, resulting in weak root systems that were never able to expand. When Sandy blew through the forest, the roots couldn’t hold up the tall trees, Hennion said.
The forested area of Stokes near Struble Road, where the red pines were thinned in the 1960s, saw little damage, Hennion said. Their roots were able to grow and stabilize the trees against the strong winds.
Hennion reassured, however, that the clearings created by Sandy will regenerate. The ground layer of soil has been disturbed, exposing fresh ground, where seedlings will naturally be planted.
Hennion then pointed to young hemlocks on the forest floor between 2 and 5 feet tall. In the past, the tiny hemlocks were suppressed by the existing pines, he said. Now they will thrive.
“In five years, this is going to be a dense stand of hemlock,” he said.
The group of nine men continued to work quickly Wednesday to clear Stokes’ campgrounds and cabin sites, anticipating that the recreation area would reopen this weekend with reservations already in place.
High Point and Hopatcong state parks’ day use areas were the first to reopen on Nov. 1. Swartswood State Park’s day use area and half of its campgrounds reopened Nov. 6, Kittatinny State Park reopened Nov. 9 and Stokes’ day use area reopened Nov. 10.
All state park trails in Sussex County, with the exception of some High Point trails, remained closed Wednesday.