After the storm Thursday, May 30, the Union Canal Tunnel Park was in great need of attention. Over 100 trees fell, causing damage throughout the park.
Since then, volunteers have been hard at work removing fallen trees and restoring the park.
Members of the Friends of the Union Canal Tunnel Park, a committee of the Lebanon Historical Society, began work almost immediately.
“We came down, assessed it, and the following day, we were at it,” said Friends of the Union Canal Tunnel Park member Howard MacFadden.
First, volunteers worked on clearing the canal itself. A total of seven scheduled canal tours, a large source of the canal’s revenue, were canceled because the tunnel was blocked on both sides by fallen trees.
At this point, both the north and south portal have been cleared and canal tours are expected to be available starting June 23.
Initially following the storm, the north side of the park was closed. It was reopened last Tuesday, June 11, but some areas may still be dangerous.
“The parking lot is open, but we ask people to be extremely careful and recognize that there are many dangerous trees hanging above them if they walk the trails,” said Friends of the Union Canal Tunnel Park chairman Martin Brandt. “We ask them to be very careful.”
While volunteers typically meet on Wednesdays to upkeep the park, since the storm, they have worked from three to five times a week, four hours a day.
They will continue to work on the park’s trails throughout the summer.
“We are making progress and we’re so thankful for the volunteers that are giving us help,” said Brandt. “We are also looking forward to opening the canal and being able to give our canal tours and describing the history for people.”
While the park is being cleared exclusively by volunteers, Brandt estimated tens of thousands of dollars in tree damage.
“This has been the biggest storm that I’ve seen in the 15 years that I’ve worked up here,” said Brandt. “We have had other smaller storms that knocked trees down, but this is the most significant damage at one time by one storm.”
After clearing the canal itself, the first priority of volunteers is to clear areas regularly used by visitors.
Volunteers will rebuild guard rails and fences broken in the storm or its aftermath. They will also replace fallen ornamental flowering trees throughout the park.
“We’re cognizant of the visitors to the park and the safety of the visitors, so anywhere they are able to stroll or walk, we want to clear those,” said Brandt. “The first thing is the tow path around the canal and when that’s done, we can move into the meadows and then into the wooden trails.”
Outside of members of the Friends of the Union Canal Tunnel Park, other groups and individuals have also volunteered to help.
Ed Brensinger, North Lebanon Township roadmaster, assisted in moving tree debris. Bruce Sattazahn supplied volunteers with a chainsaw and tractor to make the process easier.
The Ebersole and Horst families have also volunteered to help with cleanup, focusing on meadows and trails.
Four days this week, around 10 members of the Lutheran League of Lebanon are assisting cleanup efforts.
“We have a good group of people that we stay in touch with via our email blasts and Facebook postings so we’re very thankful for the people that do come out and help us,” said Brandt.
Large groups interested in volunteering can contact the Lebanon County Historical Society. Smaller groups and individuals are invited to help with the cleanup on Wednesdays from 10am until 2pm.
Earlier this year, the Friends of the Union Canal Tunnel Park repaired the Lois H. Meily, the canal’s tour-boat.