CHARLESTON — The ice storms that hit West Virginia in mid-February damaged a lot of trees, and some of those fallen trees and limbs blocked state park hiking trails.
“Most of our areas didn’t have significant reports of damage,” said Brett McMillian, the state’s deputy chief of parks. “In the cases where there was significant damage, park staffs or volunteers have been working to get the trails cleared.”
McMillian said the ice storm’s timing was actually pretty fortunate.
“It happened just before we started into our spring maintenance programs,” he added. “We would have been out inspecting and clearing the trails anyway.”
The storm hit the state’s westernmost counties hardest. McMillian said trail damage was worst at Cabwaylingo State Forest, in southeastern Wayne County.
“We had some concerns that we might not be able to open the Cabwaylingo section of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail network (on March 1) as planned,” he added. “But our people were able to work with the Hatfield-McCoy people to get everything cleared on time.”
Ice also damaged trees at Beech Fork State Park in northern Wayne County. Park superintendent Dillard Price said the storm toppled entire trees onto several popular trails.
“So far, we’ve only been able to work on the trails in bits and pieces,” he added. “Right now, our priority is to recover from the flood that came after the ice storm. All but two of our campground bathhouses got flooded, and we’re working to get them cleaned out and repair their electrical panels.”
Price said some work has been done on the park’s Mary Davis and Lost trails, but fallen trees are still blocking the Long Branch and Overlook trails.
“We’ve got more volunteers coming out the second week of April to work on them,” he said.
Trails also suffered a major blow at Kanawha State Forest near Charleston.
“Just about every trail had some kind of tree damage, especially those located up high on the hills,” said superintendent Chris Bartley. “We got hit hard.”
Bartley said it took crews almost a week to clear fallen trees from the park’s main road, let alone its 60-mile network of hiking and mountain bike trails. He credited trail coordinator Jody Richmond for planning the work and making sure it got done.
“He took the lead and got everything planned out,” Bartley said. “He lined up which group would be coming when, and which crews would be responsible for which trails. He kept a daily log so we knew which trails had been fully cleared.”
Volunteers from the Kanawha Valley Trail Alliance and the Kanawha State Forest Foundation did a lot of the work, which finished up only recently.
“All of our trails are clear now,” Bartley said. “It’s been a lot of work.”
Deputy parks chief McMillian said the presence of trail coordinators helped parks recover from the ice damage sooner than they otherwise might have.
“We have trail coordinators now at a few of our areas,” he explained. “Those are new positions, added a couple of years ago by (Division of Natural Resources) Director (Steve) McDaniel. By maintaining trail networks, those coordinators have been very beneficial to the park system.”
Clearing trails in early spring is particularly important at parks that schedule spring nature hikes or wildflower walks.
“As far as I know, all of the events scheduled for this spring are still a ‘go,’” McMillian said. “We’re trying to get past the restrictions placed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic and increase the number of activities available to guests on our parks.”
Tree damage from snow and ice storms is nothing new in the Mountain State. McMillian said the midsummer derecho in 2012 and Superstorm Sandy later that same year caused many more problems than the recent ice storm.
“We had parks that were without power for weeks,” he added. “We even had guests trapped in parks until we could clear fallen trees from roads. Some of our trails took months to clear. By comparison, we got off pretty easy this year.”