Hurricane Damage Reports from the Florida Trail Association

By Alex Stigliano, Florida Trail Program Director for the Florida Trail Association

Adapted from the September and October 2017 e-Blaze

None of us will forget the storm that completely enveloped the State of Florida in September 2017. Our hearts go out to all of those still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma.

The Florida National Scenic Trail received a thrashing. Many sections remain closed pending a full assessment by the land manager hosting those sections. After surveying the damage, we knew that our greatest need would be to clear the trail of fallen trees. Getting volunteers chainsaw certified and recertified became our primary goal and biggest challenge.

Unfortunately, between forest fires out West and here in Florida, there has been an increasingly high demand on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) personnel. This has drastically reduced the availability of chainsaw instructors. Even if instructors anticipated being available, the last-minute demands of their positions made planning a chainsaw trainings more that 6-8 weeks ahead of time impossible.

Fortunately, two changes in the Forest Service’s chainsaw policy last summer have made providing regular trainings to volunteers easier:

  1. The policy allows for nonprofit partners to become chainsaw training “cooperators,” which then authorizes their staff and volunteers who hold a current C Level Sawyer Card to train other volunteers. Last spring, we began the process of modifying our agreement with the USFS to designate the FTA as a chainsaw training cooperator. The paperwork was finalized this fall, and we anticipate being able to train our own volunteers within three years.
  2. The policy also designates private contractors across the nation that can be employed to deliver chainsaw trainings.

To meet the great need for certified volunteers after Hurricane Irma, we have invested over $6,000 to hire private contractors from Alabama and North Carolina to deliver trainings to 36 volunteers in the Panhandle, North, and South/Central Regions. If you would like to become a sawyer on the Florida Trail, talk to your local chapter’s Trail Coordinator. We rely on these Trail Coordinators to identify active trail maintainers to attend these valuable trainings.

Finally, a thank you. Irma had barely passed on to Georgia when our team began receiving reports on the condition of the trail from around the State. You folks are the eyes and hands of our organization along the length of the Florida Trail. This public resource would not remain accessible without your dedication.

Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.