When the ripped through town last spring, at least 2,600 trees were lost in the tornado's path through Golden Valley and north Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) estimates approximately 300 were in , and several residents in the say the recent removal may have done more harm than good.
Trees knocked down or so badly damaged they needed to be removed are gone, and what remains is an issue being debated by some Golden Valley citizens and representatives of the MPRB—which has jurisdiction over the park and is responsible for the tree removal and the eventual replacing of them.
Residents say the Park Board and its Forestry Division's efforts to care for the tornado damage has left the landscape around the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Theodore Wirth Parkway looking worse than before the cleanup started.
"It's like they just came in and cleared everything in their path," said Damon Struyk, who serves as the Golden Valley representative on the Theo With Citizen Advisory Committee and also blogs about park issues for Patch. He and other neighbors and park goers said they worry that the area will eventually be overgrown with invasive plant species such as buckthorn.
“Some of us think the forest area needs to be allowed to replenish itself,” he said.
In an email to the Park Board, Rich Baker, a Golden Valley resident who is also a professional wildlife biologist said: “I... wonder how the MPRB can justify removing not only the small deadwood, but all snags, downed logs, and other coarse woody debris that is so critical to the health of the forest and the wildlife that uses it.”
He said the cleanup work has essentially destroyed the natural character of the site, and would not provide seedbed for any new growth or serve as foraging sites for the birds and other wildlife in this area.
“Unless aggressive restoration is undertaken next spring, buckthorn will take over the site within a few years,” he added.
Ralph Sievert, of the forestry division of the MPRB, said the city has an obligation to take care of the trees in Theodore Wirth—especially if partially damaged trees "could pose a danger to people coming directly into that area."
“We are removing fallen trees as well as trees that are structurally damaged yet still standing," Sievert said in a reply email to Baker. "There were so many fallen trees, that leaving them would pose an obstacle to any natural regeneration that may occur. The criteria for removing standing trees has to do with its potential to cause damage to surrounding healthy trees if such trees should fall or fail.”
He said another issue is money, something Minneapolis, like virtually all municipalities, does not have in abundance these days.
"As a forested. natural area within the MPRB system, active reforestation and vegetative restoration is dependent on budget availability," Sievert told Baker.
The Park Board said it will be replanting in the area next spring.
"Our first priority was with the boulevards in the city where trees were down," Dawn Sommers, a spokesperson for the MPRB, said.
She said the city always sides on the issue of "safety first" and makes sure trees for which it is responsible, are dealt with right away so they pose no danger to people or property.
“We then have to clear streets and roadways so people and goods can move about,” she said.
Sommers said the city has an ongoing program to deal with buckthorn and other invasive plants and that Wirth will get plenty of attention next spring to try and prevent any intrusion into the area where the downed trees were cleared.
However, many argue that the park is used all year round, and say recreation and the look of the park should be a consideration.
"Although the chip-covered skid paths now look like ski trails, I have confirmed with the Nordic Foundation that from their perspective, this is neither a desirable nor intended outcome of the cleanup," Baker, who also contributed several photos of these areas to Patch, said in a letter to Sievert (see the entire letter in the attached pdf). "The skid paths are also far wider than would be used for either walking or biking."
For now, the MPRB said its work at Wirth is finished, at least for the winter. That's not sitting well with neighbors and park goers.
"It's just unfortunate that this is what we're left with," Struyk said. "And it really doesn't sound like we'll be getting any more of an answer from the Park Board."