Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
The derecho storm that changed Bon Echo Provincial Park

Today’s post comes from Sarah Wray, Discovery Leader at Bon Echo Provincial Park.

When a massive derecho storm moved through Ontario on May 21, 2022, Bon Echo Provincial Park was directly in its path.

What is a right? It is a long-lasting, fast-moving storm with straight-line winds causing widespread damage. With this type of storm, the worst comes within minutes of hitting.

I was working at the Visitor Center when the storm hit, and it seemed like only a few moments between the first drops of rain and the sound of the huge pine trees hitting the forest floor. Along with my colleague Emma and a dozen other park visitors, I sought refuge in the Visitor Center.

We watched through the fogged-up windows as a white pine tree crashed into the porch of Greystones Gift Shoppe and Café (the park store) where moments before, campers were seeking shelter from the rain. Fortunately, the visitors were quickly ushered inside before the tree fell.

A large fallen tree resting on the roof of a park building

This was the moment that impacted me the most, not knowing if those at Greystones were safe, how the rest of the camp was doing, and feeling the responsibility to assure the dozen campers at the Visitor Center that everything would be okay. Luckily, Emma was able to help me stay calm and we focused on putting the visitors at ease with us, providing crafts to the younger visitors and telling them stories about the history of Bon Echo.

As the storm subsided, we were able to check on those at Greystones and get a clearer picture of how much the forest around us had changed. The storm left the park without power, water and cell service. All the paths in the park were blocked by trees and large branches.

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Fallen trees lying on the forest floor with their roots exposed.

Fallen trees covering a road in a provincial park, surrounded by trees that are still standing.
If it weren’t for some campsite signs, it would have been difficult to recognize that there was a campsite there.

The western side of the park was especially affected, with branches and trees making it look like there was no road at all. Some areas of the park looked more like a logging operation than a provincial park. I felt incredibly grateful that there were so few injuries considering the amount of damage the park experienced.

It was impressive to see the large size of some of the root systems of the fallen trees. See the underground world of trees that is normally hidden from view.

A person standing next to the gigantic underside of a felled tree.  The tree's root system, now visible, is more than twice as tall as the person.

It was amazing to see how the Bon Echo staff, campers, and surrounding community really came together after the storm. Chainsaw crews from several different parks, including Balsam Lake and Kawartha Highlands, and local volunteer fire crews came to help clear roads and debris from people’s properties. A local arborist and his family also quickly helped clear the paths. Park visitors were incredibly understanding and supportive during the storm and subsequent evacuation, even though many suffered damage to their equipment or vehicles due to the storm. Everyone really went above and beyond to get the park back up and running as soon as possible.

Although Bon Echo may look different than it did before, this storm has offered an opportunity for regeneration. Many of the trees that fell were large mature trees or those that were diseased and dead. With an open canopy, new growth will compete for light and create a healthy forest community with trees of different ages and sizes. While it is sad to see the great impact our beloved park suffered, nature is resilient and knows how to bounce back.

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If you visit Bon Echo this season, you’ll probably see some remnants of the derecho storm. While your initial reaction may be sadness or shock, I hope visitors also feel appreciation and respect for those who were affected, those who helped reopen the park, and a sense of hope and wonder at how this event unfolded. will shape the future of the park we love.