Submitted on Tuesday, 11/22/2011, at 12:09 PM

By Rob Mattson


amage from the late-October snowstorm that wreaked havoc on Western Massachusetts may be out of sight, but it's not yet out of mind. Bob Shea, the grounds supervisor at Amherst, says that 95 percent of the cleanup effort is finished, for the main campus, but the remaining 5 percent may not be complete until well into December.

Photo by Rob Mattson

Those who frequent the college's expansive trail system should exercise caution. Shea recommends keeping a watchful eye for any of the remaining 25 percent of branches that snapped under the weight of the snow but have not yet fallen. The 33-year veteran of Amherst winters says these "hangers" are indicative of the challenges ahead for his nine-person staff, in part because many of the remaining hangers are too high and can only be accessed by companies who have sky-reaching bucket trucks. Out of approximately 850 trees that have roots in Amherst College soil, Shea says, 400 to 450 have some degree of damage, with 40 of those being complete losses. More than 10 trees still need to come down and will be reduced to chopped timber in the winter months, when a layer of permafrost will allow crews to more easily access the rugged ground on which the trees lived prior to the storm.

The greatest challenge for the Facilities crew immediately after the storm, according to Shea, was clearing roads and avoiding fallen or falling timber and power lines. "It was like a war zone," he says. The storm caused tens of thousands of dollars' worth of damages, but the students, staff and faculty who volunteered for cleanup on the morning of Oct. 30 kept the toll from climbing even higher. "It was just a blessing to see those kids come out," Shea reflects, adding that the volunteers accomplished a month's work in less than one day and cleared close to half of all fallen brush.

In the coming weeks, the Facilities team will make more progress in leaf removal and other efforts, before winter arrives-- officially, this time --and covers the ground, once again, with snow.