Forest Destroyed By Tornado Makes a Comeback

By Ryan Hanrahan
|  Monday, Nov 15, 2010  |  Updated 6:30 PM EDT
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Decades after a fierce tornado ripped through Northern Connecticut,  remnants of the devastation still remain.

Decades after a fierce tornado ripped through Northern Connecticut, remnants of the devastation still remain.

The town of Cornwall changed forever on July 10, 1989. A violent tornado with winds of nearly 200 mph knocked down one of the state's most pristine natural treasures, The Cathedral Pines.

"We were all at home in the house and in the afternoon we thought it was another thunderstorm coming in. The sky turned a bright green and all hell broke loose," said John Calhoun whose property abutted the pines.

Calhoun's grandfather purchased the pines in the 1880s and Calhoun's father donated the pines to the Nature Conservancy in the 1960s.

The Cathedral Pines were said to have been one of the last old growth White Pine and Hemlock stands in New England. Virtually every tree was destroyed by the tornado. Calhoun said that in the days following the storm people were walking around crying while surveying the damage.

After the storm most people in Cornwall, including John Calhoun, wanted the dead trees cleared from the land. "There are a lot of Yankees around here and they hated to see all this timber go to waste," Calhoun said.

The Nature Conservancy agreed to clear out a 50-foot perimeter for forest fire protection but refused to clear the inside of the forest which, to this day, remains a tangled web of timber.

The Yale School of Forestry uses the forest as a laboratory to study the return of trees following a devastating storm like the 1989 tornado.

Signs of the tornado still dot the landscape of Cornwall decades later. Spires of bark-less, lifeless, limbless trees rise high above the trees that have started to return to the forest. Inside the forest hundreds or thousands of splintered and uprooted trees criss-cross the entire property.

The story of the Cathedral Pines was largely overshadowed by the destruction left from the tornadoes further south. Though the forest in Cornwall was destroyed most of the town dodged a bullet with the tornado narrowly missing most homes and municipal buildings.

The forest is gradually returning but the pines will not return for many years, "They'll be back," Calhoun said, "but I won't be here to see them."

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