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Prince William Forest Park closed after hundreds of trees damaged in wind storm

The National Park Service estimates between 800 and 1,000 trees are on the ground or, in some cases, leaning precariously on cabins and other structures in the 15,000-acre park. (ABC7)

Last Friday’s violent windstorm not only toppled trees, ripped down utility poles, and left power lines a tangled mess, it also hammered Prince William Forest Park.

“There was a lot of magnitude of wind that came thru here, upwards of 60 mph plus,” said Chris Alford, the park’s chief of visitor services. “With the shallow-rooted pine trees, that's what we're finding mostly toppled over in the park.”

The National Park Service estimates between 800 and 1,000 trees are on the ground or, in some cases, leaning precariously on cabins and other structures in the 15,000-acre park.

In one area, downed trees literally covered up a line of picnic tables.

“We were very concerned,” park superintendent Tanya Gossett said. “More significant damage to trees especially and structures than hurricanes Isabel and Sandy and the Derecho from 2012.”

Staffers believe between 25 and 30 park buildings were damaged in the storm.

“A lot of these are historic structures, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (a public work relief program) in the 1930s,” Gossett said.

Alford says wind speeds at nearby Marine Corps Base Quantico were measured at 63 miles per hour.

Authorities closed the park to visitors early Friday, but three law enforcement rangers, who live on the property, heard the snapping of hundreds of trees during the howling winds.

“Their experience was there were a lot of snap, crackle and popping going, kind of like a Rice Krispies treat,” Alford said.

“But a lot louder?” he was asked. “Yes,” he said with a smile.

On Wednesday afternoon, crews were using chainsaws to “buck the tree,” cutting off branches from fallen trees to separate entangled power lines.

It’s unknown how long the cleanup will take, but the park will remain closed for two to three weeks.

“It’s amazing the amount of trees that are down,” Stafford cubmaster Mark Hollahan said. “At this point, there’s concern but no disappointment yet.”

Hollahan is keeping his fingers crossed; he’d hoped to have a special Webelos Cub Scouts graduation campout at the Prince William County park in a little more than a week.

“We don’t camp until March 17th, a lot of time to cut wood between now and then,” he said.

And what to do with all that fallen timber?

Parks officials have a recycling plan of sorts, using a compact sawmill.

“We will bring the logs back to that portable sawmill, cut them up, make them to the point where we can reuse them to help with preservation and historic rebuilding of these cabin camps,” Alford said.

They’ll also use the wood for campfires at designated camping areas.

This cathedral of trees may have been toppled by a ferocious windstorm.

Now the healing is underway, and a lot of work ahead.

“Assessment teams right now, specialized teams next week,” Gossett said. “Right now, it looks like the entire park, across the park, was damaged in this windstorm.”

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