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Ice storm cleanup planned for Higley Flow park

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COLTON — Cleanup efforts have begun at Higley Flow State Park after the ice storm left damaged trees, brush and ice-coated branches on the trails and roads in the park nearly three weeks ago.

The park has remained closed due to debris on roads and trails that made grooming impossible. Volunteers and park staff are preparing to get parts of the park again ready for skiers.

“We hope to make it a good and swift project,” said Kevin A. Kieff, Thousand Islands regional director for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, who toured the park Dec. 30 to assess some of the damage on the camp roads.

“It was really a mess,” he said. “This stuff was lodged in ice and you couldn’t even pick it up to throw it off to the side.”

He said crews began work on the park’s main road, and camp roads will be the next focus.

Thomas L. French, president of the nonprofit Friends of Higley Flow State Park, said he and other volunteers are hoping to get the camp roads cleared by next weekend in time for Colton Winterfest on Jan. 25 and 26.

Mr. French said the camp roads cover about five miles of varied terrain. He said the trails in the woods had the worst damage.

A Friends of Higley Flow State Park representative will join Regional Safety Officer David Krueger and Park Supervisor Henry Sieg at 10 a.m. Friday to see which trails can be accessed. Mr. Kieff said the assessment will consider the amount of chainsaw work needed. Only park staff are allowed to operate chainsaws in the park.

“There’s a possibility we may have to wait until spring to really clean up the trails,” he said. About 20 to 30 volunteers, including Clarkson and St. Lawrence universities’ ski teams, will go in over the weekend to help, Mr. French said.

“The park staff are just going to cut and leave it there,” he said. “We’ll come in and move it off to the side so the groomers can get through.”

Mr. French said two staffers from Robert Moses State Park who are certified chainsaw operators will help with cleanup over the next few weeks.

“We’ll know by the end of Friday whether some of those trails will be open this year.”

Mr. Kieff said the storm delayed the opening of Higley Lodge, built over the summer near a parking lot traditionally used by skiers at the start of the park trail system.

Mr. Kieff said the new building with heated restrooms and a large gathering room was funded by a $60,000 grant from the North Country Regional Economic Development Council and was built by the state park’s regional construction crew. He said he still hopes to see the lodge open this season.

“It’s disappointing, but we’re resilient in the north country,” he said.

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