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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: Region transformed after ’98 Ice Storm
January 12, 2018

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CANTON - Many North Country At Work stories come from the distant past. But this one is more recent, and it highlights not only an individual's work but the entire North Country community.

Following Northern New York's ice storm in January 1998, hundreds of thousands of trees were dead or damaged. To remedy the devastation, the USDA Forest Service and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation made more than $1 million available to the North Country for re-planting trees.

The Adirondack North Country Association was administering the grant money and hired Sharon O'Brien from Saranac Lake to help communities apply for the money.

O'Brien said the work was "boggling" because of all the paperwork and number of communities they were attempting to assist, but it was also incredibly rewarding.

"I ended up working with 67 different grant applicants around the North Country region, in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence. We were in towns, villages, communities."

She was working hand in hand with all sorts of people, depending on who from each community was organizing the re-planting. She recalled, "There were community reps, foresters, volunteers, fire departments, civic groups, the city managers, development offices, universities, colleges, cemeteries; it was a very extensive group!"

DEC foresters went in and helped each community form a restoration and stewardship plan for the future, and then the communities went to work.

"It was cross-generational," O'Brien said. "The restoration efforts included great grandparents down to grandchildren, who were out there helping with the planting, helping with the watering, helping with the care that needed to take place."

Some communities, such as Rensselaer Falls, rallied community labor in order to spend more of their grant money on trees.

"It stays in my memory, after all these years, of how they came together in this restoration," O'Brien said. "There was a group of people who were very committed. Some of the volunteers in that town went out and they gathered their buddies, and that it one of those places that I can remember the grandfathers and the grandchildren working not only to get the shovels and equipment ready that they needed to get those trees planted, but mid-summer, after those trees had been planted, they were talking about how different folks and different residents were out there caring to those trees."

Before the ice storm, the town of Franklin didn't have a central town park with trees, so they took this opportunity to create one.

"They planted trees that give shade, and when you drive by today, you can see the children in the community out there, having these big open areas broken with beautiful patches of shade," O'Brien said.

They also built a nature trail for residents to enjoy.

"The people in that community now have a place to go and walk through the woods now," she said. "It was graded and leveled, to make the trail more accessible.

"I find it remarkable today that you can drive through these 67 locales and see their work, many years later."

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(This story comes to you from North Country Public Radio's North Country at Work project, which explores the working lives and history of our region. To see all the stories, check out www.ncpr.org/work.)

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