The state closed the park and allowed only state employees or contractors in. It’s beloved by many, and we all wanted to help clean up the mess and get the park reopened. After a month, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection relented, saying the Sleeping Giant Park Association (SGPA) – which has been doing regular maintenance there for decades – could go in provided everyone using a chain saw passed a two-day class.
So starting mid-June, volunteers have flooded into the park every Sunday morning. I am one of them. Some – especially the sawyers – go just about every week. Others of us go whenever we can. We build teams around the sawyers – usually six teams with from three to five members. Our coordinator, Ray, sends out the schedule every week of who’s going where. The front of the park was completely stripped of trees, including the parking area and the popular shaded picnic grounds. It’s unrecognizable. In exchange for cleaning up, contractors took out all the valuable wood; then the area was graded and now looks more like a desert than a forest. There are no immediate plans to replant.
The state was responsible for cleaning up the front and the Tower Trail, the most popular, easiest trail to a stone tower with views in all directions to several towns away and Long Island Sound. SPGA is responsible for the 32 other miles in a wonderful system of trails that crisscross the Giant’s body and create almost endless hiking options.
My first time on the crew, we hiked up the Green trail to the White and immediately found a huge, beautiful oak tree sprawled across the trail. It took more than one session to cut it apart and toss the pieces on either side of the trail. I experienced both great sadness and a sense of accomplishment at removing the obstacle.
At the end of my second week I fell near a tangle of downed trees and sprained my right (dominant) wrist, which kept me out of commission for a few weeks. When I went back we found a huge white pine lying lengthwise in the trail, and had to cut it all up. It’s amazing the difference between sawing a pine (softwood) and an oak or other hardwood, which is so much denser. Just as we finished, a swarm of bees we’d disturbed went on a stinging rampage and three of us got several stings each. The only one spared was our teammate, Melody, who is allergic to bee stings. She was prepared with her epi pen and her benadryl, but fortunately didn’t need either.
About three weeks ago we transitioned from starting at the back side to starting at the front side, which is encouraging because it shows how much progress we’ve made (though it’s hard to say how much, since some parts we haven’t reached yet could be filled with blowdowns).
Today we seemed to have almost more volunteers than we could use, as we kept running into each other and leapfrogging down the trails as each team found a tree to work on. Every single person I’ve interacted with has been delightful, as team members joke around and constantly appreciate each other’s efforts. Today I got my official SGPA Volunteer neon orange cap and t-shirt. I will wear them proudly.
You can read brief interviews here I did for Hartford Magazine with half a dozen folks about why they joined the trail crew.