North Country
7:00 am
Thu August 16, 2012

Almost A Year Later, Still Coping With Irene's Damage

Credit Chris Jensen / NHPR

It was a year ago at the end of this month that Tropical Storm Irene hit New Hampshire and when it comes to the White Mountain National Forest there are still plenty of unwelcome reminders.

Sound of ground-to-helicopter communications…

That’s Erin Lane and she’s making arrangements for a helicopter to make a sweeping turn and then hover over a clearing about two miles up the Zealand Trail in a part of Bethlehem that is within the White Mountain National Forest.

Lane works for the US Forest Service and she’s responsible for guiding the helicopter. It will be making more than a dozen trips, delivering about 10,000 of pounds of lumber.

The forest service hoped to bring in the lumber last winter by snowmobile. But the lack of snow put an end to that plan.

The lumber will be used to replace a walkway over a deep, marshy area. It was undermined and tilted during Irene’s downpour.

Sound of a stream

The Forest Service’s Jenny Burnett is standing nearby, next to a small stream that eventually flows into the Zealand River.

She’s responsible for the 600 miles of trails the Pemigewasset Ranger District.

The amount of damage done by Irene last August 27 and 28th came as a surprise.

 “I didn’t believe that so much could happen and I’ve been doing trail work for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like the destruction. It makes you feel pretty small and it puts things into perspective. Mother Nature will put water where she is going to put it and any trails close to the water were affected.”

When Irene hit the storm dropped between three and sixteen inches of rain on the White Mountain National Forest, says Tiffany Benna, a spokeswoman for the forest service.

Benna says more tree damage has been caused by ice storms and notably the hurricane of 1938.

But because there are so many more trails and roads now there was a lot more infrastructure Irene could affect.

 “So, really in terms of damage to the infrastructure of the forest we haven’t had a storm that has caused this kind of damage.”

In some areas rivers simply wiped out trails.

Benna says it will take about $10 million to fix everything.

So far the White Mountain National Forest has come up with about $7 million in federal funds.

 “We think we are going to have about two thirds of those trails completed by the end of this year.”

Benna says while repairs are underway most of the national forest is open. Closed trails are listed on the web site of the White Mountain National Forest.

Sound of helicopter and radio chatter…

Now that the lumber has been delivered a four-person forest-service crew will camp near the site and take three weeks or so to build the new bridge.

But the Zealand trail will remain open.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen