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Five years after historic windstorm, National Forest finally fully reopens

The 2019 windstorm reduced large areas of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to stumps.
John Lampereur/USFS
The 2019 windstorm reduced large areas of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to stumps.

Wind speeds likely reached 100 miles per hour on July 19, 2019, in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The winds snapped tree trunks like mere twigs, effectively chopping down huge swaths of the forest within hours. About 130,000 acres of forest were leveled, mostly in Langlade and Oconto counties.

Now, five years later, that area is finally fully open again to the public.

“Volunteers, partners and employees have worked diligently for several years so that areas affected by severe storms in 2019 could re-open,” said National Forest Public Affairs Officer Veronica Hinke.

The most recent previous blowdown that even compared was in 1977, according to the National Weather Service.

Tree trunks had been piled 15 feet high in many places, closing 105 miles of Forest Service roads.

“The windstorm left many roads and trails covered in downed trees and standing hazardous trees in many areas of the southeastern portion of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest,” said Hinke. “USDA Forest Service specialists removed downed trees from roads and trails. They removed standing hazard trees. They repaired the surfaces of damaged trails and they repaired or replaced broken signs and other infrastructure.”

Among the areas closed the longest was the popular Jones Spring area.

It remained impassable because the Forest Service was unable to award a timber sale there.

Commercial timber sales accelerated cleanup in other parts of the forest.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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