By Roger McBain    Nov 29, 2007   

Reviving the great outdoors
Paths are clearing at Angel Mounds

Two years after a tornado devastated the area, 300 acres of woods just west of Angel Mounds State Historic Site again beckon hikers, bikers and dog walkers.

The aluminum siding, shingles, insulation, toys, tubs and other debris from the deadly twister that swept across the Tri-State on Nov. 6, 2005, are nearly all gone, hauled out by volunteers, safe house workers and community service workers. Accompanied by Shadow, his Rottweiler-Labrador retriever mix, Gerry Beck clears out part of a trail during his walk.

Accompanied by Shadow, his Rottweiler-Labrador retriever mix, Gerry Beck clears out part of a trail during his walk.

Loggers have cleared the worst of the fallen timber in 110 acres of woods struck by the nado, and volunteers have spent the past few months restoring some of the system of trails that once ribboned the woods, extending from the grassy levee all the way to the Ohio River.

Couldn't wait

Gerry Beck didn't wait for the loggers to finish before venturing into the woods. Beck, service manager for Gilles Cycling and Fitness and a lifelong bicyclist and hiker, has been hacking out paths since the fall of 2006, usually accompanied by Shadow, his Rottweiler-Labrador retriever mix.

Armed with a light hatchet and "trail sword," a long, curved knife he carries in a leather scabbard, the Newburgh man has chopped and hacked away, day by day, at new growth and light deadfalls clogging old trails or blocking new trails he and Shadow have laid out both north and south of the levee.

Another biker, Jim Keck, has joined him some days, taking a chain saw to bigger obstacles, dragging a tire strung with heavy steel chains to clean the path of light vegetation.

So far, they and the others have opened more than 2 1/2 miles of trails, with plans to cut more paths in the coming year.

That's great news to Jim Burton, site naturalist for the 600 acres the Department of Natural Resources owns and maintains as part of Angel Mounds.

Burton remarked on the progress one recent drizzly morning as he and several other volunteers walked the new trails with Beck and Shadow.

He remembered the way it looked in the first hours after the tornado. "I think I found 30 bathtubs, all different shapes and sizes in here," he said. "You wouldn't believe it."

Piles of siding and sheet metal cluttered the ground. Pink fiberglass insulation hung like spoiled cotton candy from the trees.

The debris and the most dangerous deadfalls have been cut and hauled out, but plenty of evidence of the twister remains. Tall shards of shredded wood still reach up from tree trunks snapped off by the wind on one section of trail.

"A lot of the oaks didn't fare very well during the tornado," said Burton. "A lot of the walnuts didn't do very well, either."

For all the destruction, the forest is healing itself. Elms, sweet gums, hard maples and oak saplings are getting started and pawpaws, blackberries, wood nettle, multiflora rose, poison ivy and creeper have helped fill in some of the open spaces.

"The tornado opened it up for a lot of this to come back in here," said Burton. "The canopy was so dense, in the summer it was almost dark in here."

So far, Beck and the others have opened a half-dozen sections of trail, ranging from one-fourth to more than three-fourths miles long, and they're in the process of opening more. Some are "single-track," perfect for single-file hiking and biking, and some sections are wide enough for several people to move abreast through the woods.

Beck has mapped the trails and measured them off using a contraption fashioned from a broken bicycle with an odometer attached to a single wheel. He's named one of the paths for Shadow, and another for Alcoa, which provided funding and volunteers for some of the cleanup.

Work in progress

It's still a work in progress, with planned trails extending to the Ohio River and fingering back through the woods. Burton wants to mark some areas with interpretive signage identifying flora and pointing to areas recovering from the tornado.

But Angel Mounds is ready to welcome hikers and bikers onto the paths cut now, Burton said.

Behaved dogs are welcome as long as they don't menace wildlife or other hikers and bikers, he said.

Everyone needs to haul out any trash they bring in, and bikers should avoid riding in muddy, wetland areas, particularly after measurable rains.

Motorcycles, all terrain vehicles and all other motorized vehicles are prohibited at any time, he added.

Otherwise, "the forest is there for anybody who wants to use it, as long as they don't abuse it." Stumble It