Count Maryland old-growth trees among Sandy's tragic toll

Dan Rodricks2:26 p.m. EDT, November 2, 2013

Donnie Oates, manager of two great parks in Western Maryland, will never forget Hurricane Sandy‘s ferocious arrival there. On the last two days of October 2012, the storm brought two feet of heavy snow, high winds, thunder and lightning through Garrett County. Epic stuff. Oates had never seen anything like it.

From his house on Maple Glade Road, which leads to Swallow Falls State Park, Oates heard a forest in collapse — trees cracking and popping, trees being uprooted under the weight of the snow, trees hitting the ground and shaking the earth. It went on all night, explosions and thuds and flashes of light.

Swallow Falls, one of the two parks Oates manages — the other is nearby Herrington Manor — is famous for its waterfalls and its trees. Before Sandy hit last year, the park had Maryland’s oldest grove of eastern hemlock and white pine. Some of the hemlocks were believed to be at least 360 years old — nearly as old as the Maryland colony — a fact that Oates was able to confirm after the big storm.

Half of the trees in Swallow Falls are believed to have been damaged or destroyed during Sandy’s onslaught, Oates says.

In the cleanup that followed, he and others counted rings on the old trees, and, indeed, the estimates were accurate. Some of those hemlocks had stood in place during the entire history of the United States. They were spared the ax during the great sweep of timbering in Garrett County, then were made a gift to the state by the Garrett brothers who owned the land.

The hemlocks were there in the summer of 1921, when Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone famously camped by 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls and put the park on the map.

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