September Storm Shatters Trees, Builds Team

Blue tape marks a sign, surprisingly undamaged, along the White Cedar Nature Trail. Photo: Kathleen Harris

On September 29, 2011, a major wind storm roared through Door County forcing emergency closure of its five state parks for six days. Luckily, at Peninsula State Park there were no injuries during the storm and clean-up, no major damage to buildings, and only one crushed car.

What storm evidence will visitors see today? “A lot of downed cedar trees along Shore and Skyline roads, including a few barber poles,” according to Jeff Lange, maintenance worker. (High winds that twist tree crowns and create downward pressure, splitting trees vertically, are called barber poles.) The DNR contracted locally to cut and remove 87.25 cords of lumber and 66,640 board feet of logs, including several magnificent red oaks lost to the winds. Lange and other employees cut an additional 400 trees marked for removal by DNR foresters.
Ranger Alyssa Gove helped with clean-up, including the night of the storm. She remembers standing outside at 8 PM and noting complete calm. By 8:30, sustained winds of 30-40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph were pummeling the park. Within minutes trees blocked every road and had snapped a utility pole, power was out later requiring WPS repairs at nine separate sites, and campers were stranded.

An oak tree topples on Welcker's shower building. Photo: Chuck Smrz.

But not for long. Quite quickly, a plan was in place. Kelli Bruns, who’d arrived as Peninsula’s superintendent just four weeks earlier, successfully led the emergency response. Campground and nature center hosts pitched in first, helping evacuate campers. By noon the next day, DNR staff from fisheries, forestry, trails and other state parks were on site, working in crews of three to four, to safely and efficiently reopen roadways.  Skilled tree-cutters worked with others, using guide ropes and wedges so snags could be safely dropped with the least amount of damage to other trees. “Taking part in such an historic event will stay with me the rest of my life,” said Gove. “The way people came together for Peninsula’s common good shows what kind of people work for the DNR.”

The notion of “team” was a benefit of last September’s storm. There were other benefits. Wind-blow will open up the forest to regeneration. More sunlight means a better chance for oak and pine seedlings. In wide swaths, birch trees might take hold. In turn, woodland edge species like red fox and indigo buntings may become more abundant. Nature is dynamic, and unexpected change is always astonishing.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.