MIDCOAST — As towns continue to clean up after the historic Oct. 30 storm, the focus is mainly on getting roads cleared and picking up the pieces.

But off in the woods of many land trusts, away from most eyes, hundreds of trees are still blocking trails as the winds rearranged entire landscapes. Volunteers and staff at the organizations are still working out how they’re going to take care of all the debris, and what rules they’ll have to negotiate when they do so.

“We put out an email pretty quickly to our stewardship volunteers just asking people to report in,” said Carrie Kinne, executive director of Kennebec Estuary Land Trust. “People stopped in the next day and every day, and we got a lot of pictures and asked volunteers to send us pictures, too.”

Pictures came in from multiple properties that KELT manages. The Overlook Trail at Thorne Head Preserve in Bath, its most popular trail, had several large trees completely blocking the path.
“Some of it was just the tops coming off, whole trees, it was just a mess,” said Kinne.

Tackling the task of clearing the trails involves coordinating volunteers, and in some cases heading out with a chainsaw. Stewardship Coordinator Cheri Brunault, and at times, Kinne herself were out for many hours carving paths out of tree trunks.

“It’s taking a village,” said Kinne. “There’s probably another month of real cleanup.”

Making a trail passable is different from bringing it back into tip-top shape. Piles of debris and logs are still waiting to be cleaned up, but that may not happen for some time.
“We knew we were going to have to organize some work days, and that might not happen until spring,” said Kinne.

In other locations, trails still aren’t close to being passable. Butler Head Preserve, which makes up 141 acres of land in North Bath, is under a conservation easement by KELT, but is primarily managed by the City of Bath and Bath Community Forestry Committee. Perhaps due to its location on the coast of Merrymeeting Bay, parts of the preserve were hit hard by heavy winds.
“Conditions vary from as good as usual to very bad,” said Thomas Barrington, who was out inspecting some of the trails on Nov. 9.

Some of the trails, he said, suffered only minor damage and had a few pieces of brush lying around that could easily be cleared. Others, however, are still unusable.

“The trails that are right next to the water, that are on the easterly side, are unusable. Completely covered in downed logs and downed trees,” said Barrington. “This is a very large area, and it has completely wiped out one whole trail that ran along the east side.”

The sign at the Whistler Trail in Butler Head is the only indication a trail exists in the wake of storm damage. Staff photo by Chris Chase

The damage is so bad that the forestry committee decided to close the preserve entirely. Lots of trees leaning precariously on each other leave stewards concerned that an errant gust of wind could bring branches down on someone’s head.

“We’ve put up signs now that the trails are closed officially because of the hazard,” said Barrington.

Cleaning the trails up is something that the committee is going to have to discuss over the coming weeks. Due to the sheer number of downed trees, and the areas that they’re in, cleaning things up is going to be a challenge.

“It kind of depends on what kind of access there is to get something in there to move it, or whether we decide we just have to leave it and cut a notch in it to get the trail through,” said Barrington.

Because the preserve is partially managed by the city, Kyle Rosenberg, the city’s arborist, will likely assist with some of the cleanup. However, he’s had his hands full dealing with fallen trees and debris elsewhere.

“We were sort of a mixed blessing in that a lot of the tree damage that the city incurred was from private trees falling into the right-of-way,” said Rosenberg. “We had a couple of city owned trees that we’ve managed to safely rest onto the ground and clean up.”

Oak Grove Cemetery, which is also managed by the city, has also been a focus of the cleanup efforts.

“It’s not as bad as you would think. I think we really dodged a bullet out there, considering the age of the trees and the condition of some of them,” said Rosenberg.

Cleaning up Butler Head will come later, and there’s more than just the volume of downed trees that means it will take awhile. Because of the nature of the conservation easement, cleaning up the property has to be done carefully. Pulling debris out of the forest could violate the easement, as it’s removing material from the habitat.

“Part of having a natural setting is that trees blow over and they become food and shelter for other organisms,” said Rosenberg. “Each spot may have its own approach depending on where it is.”
The timing of the damage is also unfortunate. Bath only recently acquired the Butler Head Preserve in 2014, and just finished all the work on the trails and signs.

“We have spent the last two or three years upgrading all the trails and making them passable and putting up all the new signage,” said Elizabeth Haskell, chair of the forestry committee. “It just makes us have to start all over from the beginning.”

Luckily for many of the organizations, there has been no shortage of volunteers willing to help. KELT had students and volunteers step up quickly, with many sending photos and surveying damage.

“We have some pretty responsive volunteers,” said Kinne. “We’ve even had a couple people stop by the office saying, ‘I haven’t volunteered before, but I know I need to now’ with this cleanup.”