ANNAPOLIS – This year’s heavy winter banished Maryland’s two-year-old drought, but it swept through so ferociously that it might be fall before the park service cleans up all the fallen trees and waterlogged trails.
Ice storms early in the winter felled trees throughout western Maryland, closing more than a third of the 16-mile Savage River Trail in Garrett County, and rain and melting snow have increased the risk of erosion in central Maryland parks, officials said.
Although the storms damaged trees throughout the forest, park staff found the worst damage where the trail follows the ridgeline, and the exposed trees were split or even uprooted by thick layers of ice, said Mike Gregory, area manager for the Savage River Complex.
“(Visitors should) realize that for right now, until we get the debris cleaned up (walking the trail) is going to be a challenge and it could be easy to lose track of the trail,” Gregory said.
Farther south, at Deep Creek Park, more than 600 trees were damaged in and around the campground, said Chris Anderson, western regional manager for the State Forest and Park Service.
“If you go in the campground, everything looks like minor damage, but you just go a few feet higher on the hillside, you see trees fallen over, broken tops – devastation,” Anderson said.
The cleanup job will range from sweeping and picking up broken boughs, to heavier work with bow saws and chain saws for the bigger pieces of fallen timber, Gregory said.
In Central Maryland, the problem comes from the more than 30 inches of melting snow the winter left behind, and the rain brought by the spring, leaving many trails flooded in places, said Gary Burnett, Patapsco Valley State Park manager.
Flooded trails pose two problems – erosion and an increased chance of slip-and-fall-type accidents – both of which are exacerbated by increased traffic, said Steve McCoy, chief of interpretive services for the State Forest and Park Service.
“We’ve got a lot of people with cabin fever, and the weather’s been pretty much gorgeous . . . so we’re seeing many more people coming out to the parks,” McCoy said. Travel fears caused by the war may also be pushing up park attendance, he said.
Park visitors should plan ahead, wear proper footwear, talk to staff before hitting the trails and pay attention when they’re walking around, McCoy said.
Rather than walking around flooded or blocked sections of the path, the park service is asking visitors to choose clear trails in order to prevent the de facto widening of the trails, Burnett said.
“The old image of people coming off the trail covered from head to toe in mud causes a lot of damage,” he said.
It’s too early to say yet how much of an effect the winter damage will have on trail maintenance costs, but it could be summer or even early fall before the work is completed, Gregory said.
Volunteers play an important part in the cleanup work, he said, and individuals who want to help out can come out to New Germany State Park in Grantsville at 9 a.m. April 19 to assist with general cleanup.