In May, several tornadoes touched down in Connecticut -- destroying homes, uprooting trees and knocking out power to thousands of customers. The weather also devastated several state parks, including the iconic Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden.
Walking through Sleeping Giant’s picnic area, the once-shaded grove is virtually unrecognizable.
Pine trees are everywhere, uprooted and scattered like toothpicks. Picnic tables are flipped sideways, pinned in place by dead trees that fell like dominoes. Cooking grills are twisted, square frames wrapped like molten metal around sheared-off trunks.
Tom Tyler, director of Connecticut state parks, surveyed the devastation.
“What’s striking to me is the unbelievably high number of trees that were just sheared off halfway up,” Tyler said, “indicating the tremendous forces that were at play here to snap these big pine trees like they were twigs.”
Those forces were at play across Fairfield, Litchfield, and New Haven counties on May 15, when four tornadoes touched down in Connecticut.
The National Weather Service said Hamden was one of six towns those tornados hit.
According to the mayor’s office, the town suffered about $2 million in public property damage, six homes were destroyed. Statewide, the storm killed two people.
At Sleeping Giant, the main gate is blocked off with police tape. Shattered bits of cars are in the parking lot where trees fell on vehicles. Tyler said several cars were crushed, but the storm didn’t cause any serious injuries.
It did cause serious damage. Tyler said cleaning up the park will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“As you look around in this central area of the park, it’s about a seven-acre area, there really isn’t almost a single tree that isn’t undamaged,” Tyler said. “All of the fully-downed trees will have to be removed. And the ones that are standing and sheared off will have to be removed as well.”
To help offset the cleanup costs, the state has formally requested the Federal Emergency Management Agency conduct damage assessments next week.
Tyler is hopeful FEMA will help the state recoup some recovery costs, but it’s a long process.
Meanwhile, cleanup will move forward. Next week contractors with heavy machinery will be on site conducting logging and excavation work.
“What we’re going to need to do is basically remove all the root systems for these trees, to be able to start over here with planting,” Tyler said.
After that, the focus will turn to removing more than 150 trees that are scattered across the park’s main trail.
Hulten said she cried when she saw the damage to the park.
“The people I’ve talked to, who have worked at the Giant for these years -- all of the manly men -- said they got tears in their eyes,” Hulten said.
Until Hulten’s group gets the go-ahead from the state, they’re staying out of the closed park.
But they hope to eventually get back in there with chainsaws and help clear off smaller trails.
State Park Director Tom Tyler said the state will need all the help it can get. Especially with the scattershot nature of the tornado and storm damage, which also closed Wharton Brook State Park, just a short way to the east.
“You’ll see these little pockets of some pretty intense damage and then long, long stretches … where you see no impacts to the storm at all,” Tyler said. “Then you’ll come out onto Route 5 in Wallingford at Wharton Brook State Park, and again, there’s an area there that’s just complete devastation.”