Buffalo, NY (WIVB) - Seven years after the October "Surprise" snowstorm paralyzed Western New York and devastated local forests, volunteers are continuing their mission to "Re-Tree" the region.
Virtually anyone who was living in Erie County when the freak snowstorm struck on October 12 and 13, 2006, can recall the eerie, "popping" noise of branches or entire trees snapping and crashing to the ground, under the way of as much as two feet of heavy, wet snow.
"I just remember driving up the street, on the way back to home. And branches were cracking, they were dropping down into the street," Bob Strassburg, of North Tonawanda, recalls.
"I remember going outside, just standing outside our front door and listening to the branches crack in the neighborhood. I was standing there, and a branch -- a tree across the parking lot actually broke and fell one of our neighbor's cars; smashed the roof in. It was really amazing."
Hundreds of thousands of people were left without electricity for days. In the most extreme cases, it took weeks to restore power.
"Didn't have much food in the house. Power was out. So we dug," Peter Gerace, who lived in West Seneca at the time, remembers. "I dug through the snow, walked about two-and-a-half, three miles to a Wegmans store. And as I walked in the door, the power went off in Wegmans."
Dr. Ida Campagna was in Boston for an education conference when the storm struck.
"We came back on, actually, day three. Our power was still out. Fortunately, my neighbor had a key and got in and ran an extension cord from their generator and put our sump pump on. But we had a couple feet of water in our basement," she says.
"We got off the Thruway on Transit Road, and as we're coming around the exit, just to see the trees covered with ice and the branches all broken off... it was like, surreal," Campagna says. "You look at areas now, out in Amherst, where it looks like the trees have never regrown. And it still looks different, still, from that storm."
Over the last seven years, the all-volunteer Re-Tree Western New York has worked to replace what the October Storm destroyed.
"In the public areas, which is what we take care of, which is between the sidewalk and the street and the parks, we got estimates of about 57,000 trees that we lost to the storm," says Re-Tree Chairman, Paul Maurer.
Many of the trees lost to the October Storm were Silver maples. Instead of simply planting new maples, Re-Tree has focused on selecting sturdier species.
"It's about 50 to 60 different kinds of trees that we've been doing," Maurer explains. "For example, elms. We have a strain of elm called the Hearty American Elm that we're putting in. Those are going to look really nice. And they're going to be heartier. They're going to be able to withstand some of the ravages," of winter weather, road salt and soil compaction.
Re-Tree's five-year plan was to plant 30,000 saplings. After seven years, volunteers have planted 25,000.
The group asks the approximately 18 towns and municipalities where it plants to match its efforts, so the actual number of trees replaced since the storm is closer to 50,000.
"So we're on the other side of it, but we have a few more years to go. And we need donations. We really have run low, on our amount of money that we've raised," Maurer says.
Re-Tree receives no public funding. All its money comes from donations and grants.
"We're always looking for volunteers, too," Maurer says. "A big concentration we could use help in will be in the [Old] First Ward area, where we're doing major planting."
You don't have to be an expert arborist. Simply show up, and Re-Tree will provide you with a shovel and all the training you need.
"A lot of these folks that we've trained are now trainers," Maurer says. "So it's a great thing."
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