Cleanup crawls along after northern Michigan storm

John L. Russell
Special to the Detroit News

Glen Arbor — Uprooted trees dangle over roads, branches litter yards and crews are working overtime three weeks after violent storms devastated one of Michigan’s most popular tourist areas.

Trails and pathways in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore were reopened within a week after the storm that hurled winds of up to 100 mph through Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties in the northwest Lower Peninsula.

But some popular hiking areas such as Alligator Hill are still closed due to fallen trees.

“We spent 10 hours rescuing hikers from there the night of the storm,” Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said. “When darkness fell, we had to fire shots into the air and sound sirens every three minutes — the tangle was so severe the hikers and rescuers had no sense of direction in the darkness and rain. We were fortunate no one was killed.”

Six tree contractors, four wood chippers and four dump trucks and one excavator joined inmate work crews and county road crews in cleaning up the widespread debris.

“There are still an impressive number of fallen or leaning trees — the so-called widow-makers,” Glen Arbor Township Supervisor John Soderholm said. “Crews are trying to remove them before gravity pulls them down. The tall trees are no longer tall, they are long and lengthy.”

Tree companies and their crews were out in force this week, clearing debris from private property. The state declared states of emergencies in the two counties, freeing up resources for the cleanup.

Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties established drop-off sites for debris.

On the night of the Aug. 2 storm, visitors to the region found themselves stranded as branches and other debris blocked access.

Randy Chamberlain, who owns Blu Restaurant with his wife, Mary, was expecting the usual dinner crowd, but instead found himself feeding hungry refugees from the storm at a shelter set up in township hall.

“There were travelers who were trapped in Glen Arbor, all the roads were blocked with downed trees. They had nowhere to go, most of them slept on cots at the hall,” Chamberlain said.

They may not have slept well, but they ate well.

The restaurant’s staff had been preparing for a busy night during peak tourist season when the storm hit. Not wanting to waste all that food, the Chamberlains, with the help of Art’s Tavern and the Glen Arbor Township Hall, which had generators, offered places to store the food. In exchange, they gave away 200 dinners.

“We served duck” at the shelter, Chamberlain said. “It was pretty cool.”

Many private property owners may have to work through the autumn months to clear fallen trees, area officials said.

Matt Ansorge, Leelanau’s emergency management coordinator, estimates the total damage at $23 million.

“That’s a pretty good snapshot of how we were impacted by the storm,” Ansorge said. “It’s been pretty taxing, but a great learning experience.”

A county hotline — (231) 256-8104 — has been set up to coordinate calls from citizens.

John L. Russell is a photographer and freelance writer from Traverse City.