Adirondack Town Of Franklin
Adirondack Town Of Franklin



A business in the storm

By Lora Couture

On January 8th, 1998 the ice storm of '98 descended upon South Merrillsville on the north side of Kate Mountain. The severity of the ice strom blanketing our area was not apparent at first. But as the weather continued to assault us, and the days wore on the devastating impact became clear. We were without telephone for 8 days. For the next 6 days, we had intermittent telephone service dependent upon Bell Atlantic keeping portable generators operational. We were without power for 14 days. For the next two days, we operated carefully, as advised by the power crews, due to the possibility of potentially inconsistent power levels that might damage appliances and equipment.

For the first two days of the storm, the ice continued to accumulate on trees, buildings and vehicles. The sound of 80 acres of trees literally exploding under the weight of the ice glaze for three days was relentless and deafening. Our family spent the days away from windows and second story roofs and nights sleeping on floors away from possible harm. Sleep did not come easily or last for long. Just getting to the woodshed for another armload of wood was a dicey proposition, sizeable trees and limbs fell in between the house and the shed. Our son Toby wondered aloud how, after days of virtually non-stop cracks and snaps, with barely seconds between crashes, there could be anything left to break. The worries about our safety and the extent of damage that we could only guess at from in the house gnawed at us. On the third day, the wind picked up and heavy gusts continued to assault the trees. By day three there was relatively little left to fall from the trees and strike anyone or anything below. We were then finally able to clear enough of the debris out of our half mile driveway to get out and check on less able neighbors. As my husband Jeff sawed away at the down trees in our half-mile driveway he kept a cautious eye to the sky for falling debris. As he got closer to the road, he thought he heard something other than his saw, the falling limbs and the shattering-glass-like sound of breaking ice. He shut the saw off and peered through a hole in the wall of brush. There, on the other side, sawing his way in to see how we were faring was our neighbor, Gene Urban. Livingston I presume? And so the camaraderie of the neighbors that would cushion the draining work of the next weeks began.


On the fifth day more ice accumulated and stronger winds tore away more of what was left of our forest. Following that we had a stretch of sub-zero temperatures, then 14" of snow. Then 6 more inches of snow and more sleet followed adding to the icy coating on the trees. The original ice began to melt for the first time on January 30, over three weeks after the storm hit. With the thaw, we heard more (by now seemingly never-ending) crashing of trees and branches. We had well over three feet of snow in the woods blanketing the debris before the spring thaw. Our daughter, Caroline, looked at the hillside. What she saw was a jagged tangle of tree parts, as if a giant had walked over our mountain with a lawn mower. Splintered toothpicks stood where trees had been. It doesn't feel right to see the inside of so many trees Mom, she said.

We spent our time from day three until the power was restored keeping our family, home and business from further harm as well as helping neighbors. Ralph Etienne was house sitting with Florence Kurzer at the Fitz-Enz home. Jeff, Gene and Ralph began their daily rituals keeping Mrs. Kurzer, Ruth Laundry, Don & Helen Olmstead, Carolyn Cochran and anyone else in need warm and fed. With help from Todd McAfee, Dave Vossler, Al Berg, John Brown, and Barbara Waters, everyone in the neighborhood was safe, warm and fed. Generators arrived from the Albany area with the Fitz-Enz son and Jeff's dad. Nothing was more comforting than stopping at the local hub of activity and sharing news with Edith Urban. She kept communications flowing as smoothly as the tea and goodies. Who needed a generator hook up? Was anyone short on batteries? Who was going to town? To Plattsburgh? Who had a failing freezer and needed help eating the resulting feast? The neighborhood purred with the hum of generators, helicopters and National Guard visits. The only way to know if the power was on meant going a mile to the corner to see if the street light was on. Just the basics of every day life - getting the kids to school, keeping in touch with family and business contacts - all seemed like major accomplishments at times. Keeping up with storm tasks was a full time job until utilities were restored and we could begin to assess the aftermath of the storm.

We were very lucky. No one got hurt, our vehicles survived and our buildings suffered only minor damage. It was a miracle that more was not lost. Re-wiring electric hook-ups from generator set-ups, re-stocking refrigerators and freezers, evaluating damage, trusting office equipment and the like helped us begin to resume a normal rhythm in home and work life. The decompression was surprisingly draining. One of the most sobering turns of events was when we found out that both our commercial and homeowner's insurance underwriters were turning us down for any assistance. Our big loss was in the woods.

We lost 80 acres of raw materials. Our wares are predominantly bentwood. We bend green wood. The green wood comes from our acreage. The woods are no more. The trees have no tops, or they have snapped off half way up the trunk, or they are bent over to the ground, a few even came up by the roots. While we pray that some may survive, the prospects for harvesting high grade, mature tress in 3, 5, 10 or 20 years is quite grim. We lost raw materials that we have selectively managed for years. To move through the woods is incredible; walking through the down timber and brush is nearly impossible. Driving the tractor on regular roads means weeks of clearing roads - never mind moving off the road into the woods as we used to. The time spent trying to salvage what we can is very time consuming.

Our forester cruised the property to assist us with a revised long-term management plan. His evaluation was that 95-99% of the trees will not survive. We lost nearly all of our standing timber, revenue from future production of the acreage and the value added to the raw material we earn turning the wood to wares. The acreage will not look like it did before the storm for 80-100 years. We have managed this 80-acre wood lot for fifteen years. We had several lifetimes' worth of raw inventory available on-site to supply our business. We selectively harvested timber and processed primary and secondary wood products here. The loss, applying today's value of what was on the stump when the storm hit, increases logarithmically over decades. In as little as fifteen years a Black Cherry tree that could be harvested today as a good-sized log tree would, optimistically, mature into a veneer grade tree worth comparatively much much more.

If trees leave town as logs the value of lumber or finished goods is lost. Recovering as much value as possible from timber before it leaves provides the best return of our natural resource, and it generates jobs. Our mature Northern Hardwood forest isn't logged on a large scale, sent elsewhere to processing facilities loosing all but the stump value to out-of-region concerns. Our stand will continue to be managed for selective harvest and regeneration to retain as much as possible within the local economy. The incubator of raw materials also provides excellent recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat. Our family enjoys year round out door fun and the wildlife sightings keep us engaged with the world around us. We believe we are managing a critical natural resource as soundly as it can be to maintain the environmental and economic infrastructure of the Adirondack Park. We take great pride and enjoyment in what we do.

Since 1985 Goods from the Woods has turned woods into wares. From raw materials, to processing, to marketable product; we do it all in a low profile, environmentally friendly enterprise. Our products are marketed in stores & galleries worldwide, major retail catalogs and cable television. We are an established business. We are resilient and determined entrepreneurs. That is what will get us through our recovery plan.

We have lost the security of high-quality on-site raw materials. Our first priority is to salvage what we can from the acreage. Dead trees will be taken out reducing the susceptibility of the remaining trees to disease and pests or damage from dead standing trees falling on surviving neighbors. Brush and slash will be selectively left to provide wildlife habitat as well as provide protection to hardwood seedlings. The best we can do to encourage the recovery of the forest will have been accomplished. We can then begin the timber stand improvement cycle again, this time with a very young forest.

A final note of irony, when "the lights went out" we had a couple hundred boxes with Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation's logo screen printed on the top. They were in the final stages of finishing and due at an economic development conference long before our power came back on. We managed to finish them in time, albeit by generator power and sheer gumption. Niagara Mohawk's  power for upstate New York slogan does not just describe electricity. I believe the real power in upstate New York is in the forestlands and the people who live within them.

People helping people is what got us through the storm. The power of good intention and hard work make a big difference in this world. When our great-grandchildren are grown, we hope our property is a productive mature forest again. And, we hope there will be a legacy of a fine woodworking business that survived the environmental and economic challenges of doing business in the Town of Franklin.

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Town of Franklin
P.O. Box 209, Route 3, Vermontville, NY 12989  ·  Tel: 518-891-2189  ·  Fax: 518-891-6389  ·
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