HARRISBURG, Ill. (AP) - The Shawnee National Forest was significantly altered a decade ago when a storm struck southern Illinois that was so strong meteorologists created a new class of extreme weather to describe it.
Forest officials said the May 2009 storm rerouted trails, resulted in wildfires and changed habitats, the Southern Illinoisan reported.
“It had a huge impact on a whole variety of resources,” said Shawnee National Forest Program Manager Mary McCorvie.
The forest spans 289,000 acres (117,000 hectares) in southern Illinois between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, which says nearly 1 million people visit each year.
A derecho is a huge, fast-moving band of storms characterized by straight-line winds. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called the May 2009 storm a “Super Derecho.” It stretched from Kansas to Kentucky, and brought with it wind gusts of more than 90 mph (145 kph), tornadoes, flash floods, thunderstorms and hail.
It blew out nearly 100 windows at Southern Illinois University residence halls in Carbondale.
Kelly Pearson, wilderness technician and youth host and volunteer coordinator with the Shawnee National Forest, said the derecho substantially changed some of the trails, and it was an enormous task to make them serviceable again.
“It was dangerous, hot work,” said Pearson, who was trails technician at the time.
The most exhausting work was in the wilderness areas of Bald Knob and Clear Springs west of Alto Pass, where motorized equipment is not permitted, she said. That meant workers had to use two-person crosscut saws and other hand-held tools to dismantle trees that had fallen over the trails.
Around 20 miles (32 kilometers) of trail were affected, including the Pomona Natural Bridge, Little Grand Canyon, Inspiration Point and several surrounding Kinkaid Lake, Pearson said.
“It wasn’t just a tree here and there, but multiple trees. It was really complicated, scary, dangerous stuff,” she said.
Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com
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