Volunteers clear storm-slammed hiking trails

Volunteers work in Heckscher State Park to repair Volunteers work in Heckscher State Park to repair some of the damage from Superstorm Sandy in East Islip. (Dec. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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After weeks of chopping up fallen trees with his ax, clipping unruly shrubs and picking up debris along miles of Long Island's hiking trails hit hard by superstorm Sandy, the time had come for Bill Raftery of East Islip to retire his old work gloves.

But Sunday, wearing new gloves, Raftery and a dozen other volunteers helped rebuild parts of a boardwalk at Heckscher State Park in East Islip -- part of an ongoing effort to repair trails throughout Long Island damaged by the storm.

"We're hoping to get as much as we can before the winter," said Raftery, who coordinated the cleanup. "There's still a lot of work to get done, but most of the trails are in better conditions than they were right after the storm."

Undeterred by dense fog that blanketed Heckscher Sunday morning, the volunteers unloaded planks of wood from a pickup truck and formed a makeshift boardwalk, replacing parts of the path damaged along the Long Island Greenbelt Trail. The 32-mile hiking trail that stretches from Heckscher to Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park is one of several the Greenbelt Trail Conference is working to clear of fallen trees and debris.

Next weekend the group, established in 1978, plans to rally its members at Blydenburgh Park in Hauppauge. Since its inception, the group has created and maintained more than 200 miles of Long Island hiking paths -- including the 20-mile Nassau-Suffolk trail that runs from Cold Spring Harbor State Park to Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue in Massapequa.

Since Sandy hit on Oct. 29, Raftery has spent weeks clearing and rerouting trails to steer walkers away from low-lying tree limbs. Raftery said Hidden Pond Park in Hauppauge and Blydenburgh are among the areas that still need major cleanup work.

Tom Casey, the group's vice president, said the nonprofit is still assessing which areas need the most help, and is creating a database from emails and calls it has received from trail enthusiasts giving them tips about which trails need work.

"State and county park budgets are usually so tight right now," Casey said. "We're helping as best we can with donated materials and the sweat and labor of volunteers."

Several of the volunteers came despite having to deal with repairs to their own storm-damaged houses.

Amy Bernstein, the group's treasurer, had to gut the first floor of her Bellmore home because of flooding. She also lost her car to flood damage and is still awaiting payments from FEMA and her insurance company to begin reconstruction work.

"I needed a break from all of that," Bernstein said. "It's nice to be able to come out here and give back a little."

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