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Ice storm cleanup planned for Higley Flow park

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COLTON — Cleanup efforts have begun at Higley Flow State Park after the ice storm left damaged trees, brush and ice-coated branches on the trails and roads in the park nearly three weeks ago.

The park has remained closed due to debris on roads and trails that made grooming impossible. Volunteers and park staff are getting ready to brace the cold to get parts of the park again ready for skiers.

“We hope to make it a good and swift project,” said Kevin A. Kieff, Thousand Islands regional director for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Mr. Kieff toured the park Dec. 30 to assess some of the damage on the camp roads of the park.

“It was really a mess,” he said. “This stuff was lodged in ice and you couldn’t even pick it up to throw it off to the side.”

He said crews already started work on the park’s main road, and camp roads will be the next focus.

He said park officials hope to at least get camp roads reopened for skiers.

Thomas L. French, president of the nonprofit Friends of Higley Flow State Park, said he and other volunteers are hoping to get the camp roads cleared by next weekend in time for Colton Winterfest Jan. 25 and 26. Winterfest events will include a family day at the park.

Mr. French said the camp roads make up about five miles of varied terrain.

“The roads are great skiing, but there’s something more intimate about skiing on the trails in the woods,” he said.

Mr. French said the trails in the woods saw the most significant damage.

A Friends of Higley Flow State Park representative will join Regional Safety Officer David Krueger and Park Supervisor Henry Sieg to tour what trails can be accessed at 10 a.m. Friday to assess the damage.

“No one’s seen the trails yet,” Mr. Kieff said. “I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a big mess.”

Mr. Kieff said the assessment will consider the amount of chainsaw work that needs to be done. Since only park staff are allowed to operate chainsaws in the park, volunteers cannot help.

“There’s a possibility we may have to wait until spring to really clean up the trails,” he said.

Mr. Kieff said many of the branches and trees that fell are now stuck in solid ice on the ground.

About 20 to 30 volunteers, including Clarkson and St. Lawrence universities’ ski teams, will go in over the weekend to help, Mr. French said.

“The park staff are just going to cut and leave it there,” he said. “We’ll come in and move it off to the side so the groomers can get through.”

Mr. French said two staff members from Robert Moses State Park who are certified chainsaw operators will help with cleanup over the next few weeks.

“We’ll know by the end of Friday whether some of those trails will be open this year.”

Mr. Kieff said the storm delayed the opening of Higley Lodge, built over the summer near a parking lot traditionally used by skiers at the start of the park trail system.

Mr. Kieff said the new building with heated restrooms and a large gathering room was funded by a $60,000 grant from the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, and was built by the state park’s regional construction crew.

Mr. Kieff said he still hopes to see the lodge open at some point this season.

“It’s disappointing, but we’re resilient in the north country,” he said. “We’ll get things cleaned up, it’s just a matter of how long that’s going to take.”

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