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Local ranger cleans up mess from Sandy
Stafford County resident part of disaster relief team sent to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy

 A crew of state parks employees from Virginia spent a week in November at New Jersey's Stokes State Forest clearing away thousands of trees felled by Superstorm Sandy.
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Date published: 12/4/2012

By Rob Hedelt

WHEN Dave Symington and others on his crew got their first look at Hurricane Sandy's devastation in New Jersey's Stokes State Forest, they were puzzled briefly about where to start their cleanup.

The 29-year-old Stafford County resident and the other eight on a disaster relief team from Virginia state parks did the only thing they could to clear piles of downed oaks, pines and maples 10 to 15 deep in places.

"We'd just started at the edges and work our way in," said the affable Symington, a park ranger at Leesylvania State Park who grew up in Bealeton in Fauquier County.

"Some had 20-foot root balls attached so you had to be careful," he said of the propensity for movement when trees and limbs balanced atop other trees were pared away. "We just work slowly and carefully in spots like that."

The Nov. 11-17 Sandy cleanup effort by rangers and others from various Virginia's state parks amounted to draining 12-hour workdays at the state forest in northern New Jersey.

Armed with Bobcats, an industrial-sized chipper, trucks and two chainsaws per man, the team of Virginians trained in tree removal zeroed in on the campgrounds at the 16,000-acre park headquartered in Branchville, N.J.

"Hunting is allowed there and this is a prime time for these campgrounds," said Symington, "so getting the trees cleared and the campgrounds in shape to open was our focus."

Symington helped do cleanup work at Westmoreland State Park a while back after storms leveled trees there. But nothing could quite prepare him or others on the team for the sight that greeted them in the inland New Jersey forest.

In one spot, red pines planted too closely decades ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps went down like dominos from wind bursts Symington said seemed to have cut perfectly straight swaths through the campgrounds and surrounding forest.

A bit daunted at first, the ranger--who's in his third year working at Leesylvania near Woodbridge--said the crew was encouraged by the progress each day as they slowly but steadily cut, cleared and chipped up trees and debris.


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