The tornado and 90-mile-per-hour winds that ravaged the area July 23 changed the streetscape in many locations in Chatham and Harwich. A glance at the nearly-empty hollow behind the Brooks Park bandstand, once thick with trees, confirms the storm's lasting impact.
When some 3,000 trees are lost, as happened in Harwich, it can't help but change the appearance of the community. While many lost trees were on private property, quite a few were along major roads and in very visible locations.
It will take many years to recover the canopy lost to the storm, officials say, and it may be some time before those efforts can begin.
Chatham doesn't have a count on the number of trees sacrificed to the storm, but among those lost were many that were well known. The loss of a large silverleaf maple in front of the Methodist Church, which overhung Main Street, changed the appearance of the intersection of Main and Cross streets.
“It's too bad that tree was lost, but it was a hazard,” said Park Director Dan Tobin, who is also the town's tree warden.
Chase Park was also hit hard by the storm, especially the rear section. Nearly a dozen trees were lost in the park, Tobin said. Several of the trees lost in the park were memorials planted by Friends of Trees, including an ash dedicated to environmentalist Alice Hiscock. A memorial tree was also lost in Nickerson Park, said Friends of Trees President DeeDee Holt. Several trees on the group's downtown walking tour were also damaged by the storm, including several in Kate Gould Park which were severely trimmed due to the loss of branches.
Large, very visible trees were also lost along Old Harbor Road, Stage Harbor Road and Main Street.
The sheer amount of branches and trees lost can be seen in the more than 595 tons of debris brought into the transfer station, much of it piled to the left of the access road, said Director of Public Works Tom Temple. About 340 tons was taken to an offsite facility in Orleans. After the free disposal of storm debris ends Aug. 9, Mayer Tree Service will bring in a tub grinder to chip the material, which will then be hauled away. The town will pay the company $13,000 for the service, Temple said.
The work is not done yet. All of the stumps on town property have to be removed or ground down, Temple said, and any overhanging branches missed during the days after the story—betrayed as the leaves turn brown—need to be removed.
“We're out right now cutting those down,” Temple said Tuesday.
There's a Friday deadline for assembling figures on how much the storm cost the town, after which it will be determined if the region qualifies for disaster funding from FEMA. Invoices were still being assembled as of early this week, Temple said, while Finance Director Alix Heilala was putting together overtime costs.
The Friends of Trees board will meet later this month to discuss replacing the memorial trees, as well as how the group can help in restoring the tree canopy lost to the storm, said Holt. The group has always worked with property owners to plant trees along roads and in locations where there is a public benefit, and they hope to continue that. On a hot day, she noted, there's a noticeable temperature difference between areas that are open and those shaded by trees.
“It will be decades before they get as big as what we've lost, but you've got to start somewhere,” she said.
Tobin said he didn't know if there would be money available to replace trees lost on town property.
“We don't have funds for trees without our general operating budget,” he said. It's possible that an article to fund tree replacement could be put before next May's annual town meeting, “but those discussions haven't gotten underway, by any means.”