With tree branches trimmed, roofs repaired, and electrical lines once again humming, most Ontarians have put the May 21 windstorm in the rearview mirror. But the Ganaraska Forest, 50 kilometres southeast of Peterborough, Ont., is still dealing with the consequences.
Access to the forest’s 11,000 acres has been closed to the public since the May 21 storm. On July 14, the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA), the governing body in charge of maintaining and operating the forest, announced that it was extending the closure until September 30.
According to the GRCA, the May 21 storm was the worst natural disaster to hit the forest since its founding in 1947. High-speed winds took down 600 acres worth of trees, with many blocking main trail access points in the west and central sections of the forest. “Many of the downed tree situations include very dangerous spring poles [and] cracked and/or unusually compressed trees,” says Ed Van Osch, a forest recreation technician working with the GRCA, in a statement.
Forest staff have been working since May to clear approximately 600 kilometres worth of trails, but high-wind events since the May 21 storm and limited staff have slowed the clean-up efforts. “The Conservation Lands department consists of five full time staff and four summer contract staff,” said Pam Lancaster, GRCA’s Conservation Lands coordinator, in a statement. Those nine staff members are responsible for clearing the Ganaraska Forest trails while also managing nine other conservation areas operated by the GRCA.
Staff from Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority, Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, and Northumberland County Forest have assisted with recovery efforts. For the time being, the GRCA isn’t accepting public volunteers to help with clean-up as dangerous and complicated tree removals pose a safety risk.
In mid-July, logging operations will start in the west and central sections of the forest. The GRCA is allowing an increased number of logging operations this year to assist with recovery as they salvage and harvest the fallen trees.
“Timely salvage of blown over Red Pine is integral to preventing further forest management issues from arising. Downed material not only increases fire risk in the forest, but it also acts as a breeding ground for bark boring beetles,” said Gus Saurer, a GRCA forester, in a statement.
The east section of the forest was not hit as hard as the west or central sections, but it will also remain closed, the GRCA says, as there are concerns it doesn’t have the capacity or parking space to handle a surge in recreational use.
For those who purchased a forest membership (not including cross country ski memberships) between June 1, 2021 and May 21, 2022, the GRCA will extend the membership by 12 months from its original expiry date. For those who purchased a cross country ski membership that expired after the forest closed on May 21, you’ll receive a six-month hiking membership. In both cases, a notification should be sent to you by email.
As clean-up efforts in the Ganaraska Forest continue, GRCA staff ask that the public respect the forest’s closure and do not enter. “The GRCA is committed to reopening recreational trails in the Ganaraska Forest to recreational use. Everyone’s continued cooperation, understanding, and patience is appreciated,” says ” Linda Laliberte, the GRCA’s CAO and secretary-treasurer, in a statement.