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Higley Flow State Park cleanup operations now on the table

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COLTON - Although Higley Flow State Park remains closed to all users, work has begun in assessing damage and effecting cleanup operations.

The closure was a result of the ice storm that hit the north country during the weekend of Dec. 21.Broken and hanging branches still pose a serious hazard in the park.Many trails are blocked by downed trees, and miles of trails are littered with debris making grooming impossible at this time.

Kevin Kieff, Thousand Islands regional director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, visited the Park on Dec. 30 to view the damage and devise a cleanup plan.Efforts will focus on the camp roads and loops at first as they were the least affected and provide the most kilometers of skiing for the least amount of work.Cleanup of roads and loops began on Thursday and will continue this week.

The most significant damage was to the woods trails.Regional Safety Officer Dave Krueger will conduct a snowshoe/walking tour of those trails, weather permitting, on Wednesday.Woods trails include Overlook, Warm Brook, Pine, Cedar Brook and the Beaver Pond Trail.

Once the damage has been assessed and safety concerns addressed, a determination will be made on a suitable plan to clear those trails as well.

Even though damage is not as great as during Ice Storm ’98, the process of restoring all the trails is expected to take time.State park employees will complete the chainsaw work, but once finished, it is hoped that skiers and snowshoers will volunteer to throw smaller branches off the trails.The Friends of Higley Flow State Park, Inc., will organize a volunteer work bee if necessary.

Members of the St. Lawrence and Clarkson University Ski Teams, along with volunteers from the Friends of Higley Flow State Park, Inc., did make some initial efforts to clear debris with loppers.But after three hours, one crew made only about .1 mile of progress on one trail.Work was much more physically demanding and arduous than expected and the need for a chainsaw was clear.

The ice storm damage has occurred at an unfortunate time, as skiing conditions prior to the storm were excellent, and would still be so if not for the trail damage.Final work on the new Higley Trails Lodge was also winding down and was scheduled to open before the end of December, though the need to divert resources to trail cleanup might delay the opening.

More information and updates will be released as parts of the park trail system are reopened.Trail conditions can also be found at Higleyfriends.org.Individuals can also sign up for email alerts by contacting the Friends group through the website.

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