LEWISBORO, N.Y. – Early one morning this week, Lewisboro resident Mike Salowey parked at the Frederick R. Rose Preserve off Route 121 and removed a collection of tools from the bed of his pickup truck.
“This is a chance for me to go out into the woods and play with my chainsaw,” Salowey said with a smile as he headed down one of the preserve’s hiking trails. A cool drizzle and a dense fog swathed the woods, reducing visibility to 10 or 15 feet.
“We need to clear these trails so people can go for a hike,” he said, shrugging off the weather.
After Hurricane Sandy hit, northern Westchester’s preserves, reservations and parks took a huge hit as hundreds of trees were knocked over, many obstructing hiking trails. Others hung at precarious angles, presenting a danger should they fall.
But thanks to the Westchester Land Trust’s cadre of stewards and volunteers who have taken to the woods with their saws and sundry tools, the trails are beginning to open again.
Salowey was joined on the Rose Preserve trail by fellow volunteer and steward Mike Surdej as well as David Emerson, WLT’s director of stewardship, and Kara Whelan, its director of conservation programs.
“We can’t do this without the help of the volunteers who walk the trails and let us know if there is an obstruction,” Emerson said.
Most of the dangerous situations, such as the leaning trees, have been handled by professional crews who have the skills and tools to deal with such situations, Emerson said. The volunteers focus mainly on trees that are already on the ground, which can be sawed and removed from the trails.
“We look for situations in which volunteers can work in safely,” he said. “Our budget took a pretty big hit, but we are committed to keep these [trails] open to the public. We can’t have the trails inaccessible and unsafe.”
Some of the WLT’s preserves in northern Westchester were hit worse than others, Emerson said.
“Westchester Wilderness Walk in Pound Ridge’s Zofnass Preserve had more than 800 trees down,” he said.
Salowey said he got interested in the WLT’s preserves a few years ago when he volunteered to cut down vines.
“I went out there and had a ball,” he said. “I guess I was chopping away and was pretty enthusiastic, and they looked at me and thought this guy might be able to help. They asked me to be a land steward for Pinecroft Meadows on Mead Street and help with trail maintenance.”
Salowey met Surdej through their work with the WLT. They became fast friends and often team for projects such as the trail-clearing endeavor.
“We just call them the two Mikes,” said Whelan.
To learn more about the Westchester Land Trust and volunteering opportunities, visit its website.
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