Widowmakers abound as trails remain closed

Mar 27 2018 | 07:10 AM

— Winter-weary residents looking forward to spring hiking in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area will find their favorite trails closed, perhaps through the summer or longer.
The boardwalk trail at Dingmans Falls will likely remain closed through the summer, and George W. Childs Recreation Site will remain closed indefinitely, the result of two back-to-back winter storms that hit earlier this month.
"We’re looking at the bigger picture, including the possibility of closing or permanently re-routing some trails to more sustainable locations rather than continually repairing damage after severe storms,” said Deputy Superintendent Keith Farrar on Tuesday.
Workers continue to assess damage throughout the park. Most of the snow is gone, but thousands of fallen trees remain strewn throughout the park. More dangerous are the many “widowmakers” — loose limbs suspended overhead in trees that have the potential to fall on those walking below — along the McDade Trail and other trails.
“Our crews are working to remove safety hazards from the popular McDade Recreational Trail this week so that we can re-open it as soon as possible,” said Bill Tayge, Roads and Trails supervisor for the park.
Tayge’s team will also be clearing branches and debris from the shoulders along Route 209 and other park roads this week.
The 53-acre Childs site, with its beautiful cascade waterfalls along Dingmans Creek, has been part of the park since 1983. It was closed for three years, reopening in the summer of 2013 after a $2.9 million renovation that improved trails, overlooks, boardwalks, stairways, picnic sites, and restrooms.
“The extent of the storm damage is both significant and widespread and it will take many months, perhaps even years in some cases, to repair,” said Farrar. He is working with park staff to draft requests for additional funding before a Friday afternoon deadline.
"We ask that our visitors and local residents to be patient as we work through the assessments and repairs in a way that protects the public, the park’s natural and cultural resources, and our staff who are out there doing the work,” said Farrar. “It isn’t going to happen overnight, and some areas will likely never look the same again.”
Damage to park trails is substantial, especially along iconic waterfall trails and ravines on the Pennsylvania side of the park, where mature eastern hemlock and white pine trees dominate the landscape.
“On steeper slopes and along streambanks, wind-toppled trees took the slopes and stream banks with them when they fell resulting in destabilization of trails and hillsides, increased potential for erosion and sedimentation, and choked stream channels,” said Farrar. “It’s much more than just cutting and removing fallen trees or rebuilding trails and bridges. We’re looking at the bigger picture, including the possibility of closing or permanently re-routing some trails to more sustainable locations rather than continually repairing damage after severe storms.”
Pennsylvania trailsAll trails on the Pennsylvania side of the park are closed until further notice. These areas sustained significant damage, and hazardous conditions still exist, including downed trees, unstable slopes and trail surfaces, damaged bridges, and hanging and leaning trees and branches. Exceptions include the Fossil Trail at Pocono Environmental Education Center and the Raymondskill Falls Trail (from the lower parking area).
New Jersey trailsThe Van Campens Glen trail is closed because it presents a public hazard. Other trails in New Jersey are still being evaluated.
NPS officials recommend that visitors refrain from hiking on park trails that have not been assessed. Information on the status and conditions of park trails will be posted on the park’s website and Facebook page as it is available.
Park roadsAll park roads that were closed due to the storm have been re-opened although some of the township-owned roads that intersect with Route 209 on the PA side of the park remain closed. Mountain Road in NJ has been re-opened with access to Buttermilk Falls while the dirt section of Old Mine Road remains closed as part of normal winter operations. River Road in Pennsylvania may be closed on some evenings in the next few weeks to protect breeding amphibians.
Sections of Route 209 through Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area will be closed on Thursday, March 29, so that maintenance crews can remove overhanging branches and roadside brush. Detours will use Milford Road/2001. Crews will begin at 9 a.m. on the section between the southern boundary near Bushkill and Route 739. When completed, that section will re-open, and the segment between Route 739 and Milford will close. The entire stretch of Route 209 is expected to be open by 3 p.m.
Cultural resourcesCultural resource assessments are also ongoing. Maintenance staff have been working with the park’s arborist and sawyers to remove trees from several roofs and cultural resource management staff have been evaluating damage to historic buildings and archeological sites.
Information and updatesFor more information on Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and updates on park facilities, call park headquarters at 570-426-2452, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m .until 4:30 p.m.; visit nps.gov/dewa; or follow the park on Facebook.