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RANGELY I As Rangely resident Barb Chism, her family and their friends gathered on Grand Avenue on Oct. 4, the morning after an early fall snowstorm wreaked havoc on the area’s trees and power system, their goal was simple: to get the Chism’s yard cleaned up, then move on to the neighbors’ yards on the same block.
After the limbs strewn around Chism’s backyard and driveway had been cleared, the team cut and hauled limbs for several neighbors, including the Manns, the Haydens, the Sanfords and Matt Grenfeld.
By then, it was around lunchtime. It didn’t take long for Chism, daughters Megan and Mandi, nephew Brent Bland, grandson Little D, and a handful of friends to realize they could put their two flatbed trailers, a chainsaw and handsaw and a little brawn to use elsewhere.
As they brought loads to the initial drop-off location, the tree dump next to the Rangely Camper Park, they noticed others working alone or without a way to get branches to the site.
“As we were going down that way, we would see people’s limbs just lying on the road,” Chism recalled. “Plus we knew some of the older folks couldn’t do it by themselves. Brent and Megan and the other kids decided to stop and help them out. They could see some of them struggling.”
For some, the struggle was mental as well as physical. After an unsettling night of trees cracking and snapping under the pressure of heavy ice and snow, limbs littered Lee and Karen Stanley’s yard on the corner of Prospect and South Stanolind avenues. Many of the branches that dropped from towering Chinese elm trees bordering the perimeter of their property were several times larger than the people who eventually hauled them away.
According to some passers-by, it was one of the worst-hit homes in town.
Lee Stanley initially registered shock at the damage, which amounted to dozens of pickup-loads of branches. But as he and Karen began the slow work of cleaning up, he was even more surprised at the truck and trailer that slowed next to them and briefly stopped.
“They pulled up and said, ‘Don’t move those piles because we’re going to come get them. We’ll be back in a little while,’” Stanley said.
Chism’s crew took their load to the new drop-off location next to the reation center and returned. Within 20 minutes, they had loaded three stacks that Stanley estimates would have filled six to eight pickup beds and taken the couple two to three hours to load. Then they were gone.
“Karen and I just looked at each other and said, ‘What just happened?’” Stanley said. “Then we kept seeing this same group of young people working with Mrs. Chism. One guy said, ‘I know where we’re going next! And after that, we’re going here!’ They were just out, cruising around, helping people out.”
Throughout the day and into the weekend, more help arrived for the Stanleys, from True Value and Dave and Josh Allred to Western Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation and Parks Director Tim Webber, whom Stanley credits for working tirelessly to stack and maintain the dump site’s mounting branch pile.
Even as the town’s collaborative efforts stretched across neighborhoods, they also crossed property lines. Several neighbors on Stanolind and Dakota avenues spent Friday and Saturday working on each others’ yards.
“Our next-door neighbors, the Hejls, came and worked on the side of the yard that wasn’t even adjacent to theirs,” Karen Stanley said. “The way people helped each other was amazing.”
Now, almost two weeks after the storm, True Value owner Rodger Polley said his crews are focusing less on cleanup and more on ameliorating hazardous conditions like the “widow-maker” limbs still hanging precariously from many trees.
Polley estimates that approximately 100 calls for help came into the store the morning of the storm, with teams having taken care of around 45 storm-related tickets by Monday afternoon. Around 25 tickets still remain.
“There’s still a lot on the docket,” Polley said. “At this point, we’re just using a ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease’ approach and prioritizing safety issues … With this kind of tree trimming, you can’t go in with a plan of ‘We want the tree to look a certain way.’ We’re not trimming it to make it look nice. We’re dealing with really random, broken spots throughout the tree, like the 100-pound branch that’s 30 feet in the air that’s broken but still hasn’t detached.”
While Polley said the store will deal with branch removal for the next week or two, other residents gauged the storm’s effects not by how the trees will look once trimmed, but by how they used to look.
Joel Hogan, a Rangely resident since 1948, said he had never seen a storm impact the trees like it did Thursday night. When he was a child, the trees residents planted in town were six feet tall at most. Watching them grow for the last 65 years and become crippled in one short night wasn’t easy.
“You just drove around town and you couldn’t believe it,” Hogan said. “I like seeing trees in Rangely because most of the trees were down on the river, and those that were planted in town weren’t very tall yet. Many of them will recover, but they’ll never look the same.”
That they won’t look the same is one thing; that most will recover is another.
“As much as people don’t like the old elm trees around town, they’re tough as nails,” Polley said. “Most of the trees I’ve seen that look horrible now will have plenty of growth opportunities next spring to branch out again. It’s late enough in the fall that they’re already pulling their energy back into the roots.”
Day by day, the practical work of cleanup moves forward. Town Manager Peter Brixius estimated that employees logged between $8,000 and $12,000 in overtime during and after the storm, with damages to town property coming in between $3,000 and $5,000.
State Farm customer service representative Melanie Thompson said that as of Monday, no claims had been filed on Rangely properties.
“I was amazed,” Thompson said. “I think it’s because it snowed so slowly that when the trees finally did crack and break, they didn’t have far to fall … All of us were very, very lucky that nobody was hurt and that there wasn’t more damage in town.”
Those residents with cleanup left to do can still bring tree limbs to the dump site next to the recreation center—the pile will eventually be mulched—while the Rio Blanco County landfill continues to accept tree debris from local residents and businesses for free.
Moon Lake Electric Association District Manager Bob Kissling said crews are still repairing broken meter loops at homes and removing trees from lines.
“We’re getting closer,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of cleanup to do, but a lot of it is service orders now. It’s a lot of little stuff.”
Barb Chism estimated that by the time family and friends finished helping on Friday and again on Sunday, they had hauled between 20 and 25 trailer loads to dump sites. Daughter Megan was unable to estimate how many limbs they carried for the elderly or how many people total were assisted.
“My nephew kept saying, ‘I like to be able to help people,’” Barb Chism said. “We were very tired and sore, but it was worth it, especially when you have someone like (Rangely resident) Carol Casto coming up to give my nephew a kiss. They appreciate it. You don’t mind helping people who appreciate it.”