WALLINGFORD — Visitors will see dramatic differences next weekend in the landscape of Tyler Mill Preserve, which is slated to reopen after being closed for a year.
On May 15, 2018, a tornado that transitioned into a microburst hit the preserve. The 100-mph winds tore down trees, some 80 to 130 years old, and left the preserve with hanging “widowmaker” tree branches and trails covered in debris.
It’s been closed to the public since the storm. After a year of cleanup, the preserve is set to reopen Saturday, May 25.
The preserve consists of roughly 1,400 wooded acres purchased by the town for conservation and as a future water supply. Passive recreation — mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, hunting and fishing — is allowed on the preserve.
On Wednesday, an open space users group, hosted by the Parks and Recreation Commission, met to hear an update on the status of the preserve.
Dianne Saunders, Conservation Commission member, said Wednesday that nearly all trails are slated to reopen, except the western part of the blue trail in Bertini Park. The orange trail is permanently closed.
The orange trail, she said, has a traprock ridge that has been eroding over time. The middle ridges are very narrow and sharp now, she said.
“Other trails are open,” she said. “They’re passable (but) it doesn’t mean they’re great.”
Trees continue to fall, she said, so visitors should look up while in the preserve, keep dogs leashed and stay on the official blazed trails.
”We’ll be clearing probably for a few years,” she said. “There are huge blow-down areas off the trails, and that’s an easy place to get hurt.”
She added that there will be five or six minor re-routes posted, including at the south end of the white trail.
Footbridges over the river have not been replaced yet, she said.
Wildlife also needs to recover. There are 38 deer per square mile in the preserve, and it’s breeding season for reptiles, including turtles, and amphibians.Guided hike
Saunders said in an interview Thursday that she has fielded questions about why the preserve was not open sooner, and whether paid professionals, instead of Public Works crews, would have been quicker.
“We’re in the same place we would have been if we had been with the professionals,” she said. “It just didn’t cost the town anything.”
Erin O’Hare, town environmental planner, said Wednesday that there will be new signage on opening day, stating that “the woods have changes, proceed with care.”
Rules and regulations signs also will be updated with language about permitting requirements for organized events of 20 people or more.
A family-friendly guided hike is slated for opening day from 1-3 p.m. with Peter Picone, a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection wildlife biologist, who’ll talk about how the forest and wildlife adapt after a storm.
The hike will start at Tyler Mill bridge, no strollers or dogs allowed.
For more information on the hike, call 203-215-3535.