Parcel along the Ausable River gets new life as community gathering space
By Tim Rowland
It’s been 12 years since Irene (in the Eastern Adirondacks there is no need to add the modifier “Tropical Storm”) unleashed its fury on the Ausable River Valley, but the results are still evident: mounds of streamside debris, and artifacts from structures, including the Keene Fire Department, that had been swept away by the storm.
On that day, Linda Deyo, who lived along the river downstream from the hamlet, saw the river rising to levels it had never reached before. And it kept rising after that. She was able to move two horses from her barn to a pen on higher ground, and helped her husband tie down a propane tank next to an addition on their home that had just been completed two days prior. “Huge pines were coming down on either side of the house,” Deyo said.
The rope held, a small victory for the ruined property, which would eventually be bought and torn down with 31 other homes under a $5.5 million Federal Emergency Management Administration program and turned over to the town.
Last weekend, Keene officially unveiled this “FEMA Park” and a quarter-mile trail called Linda’s Loop that is equal parts recreational, educational and symbolic of how humans and nature can work in concert.
As it established goals stemming from a strategic community planning process, Keene resident Peter Slocum said his recreation committee saw an opportunity for the four acres alongside the East Branch of the Ausable, where the river is in the process of being restored to health.
It took perseverance and lots of volunteer hours from community residents and Keene employees. “Fortunately we have a supervisor (Joe Pete Wilson) who’s more at home with a chainsaw than in a committee meeting,” Slocum said.
The riverbanks had been horribly scarred by the flood, said Keene Board Member Dave Deyo, son of LInda, who grew up on the property. The backyard of a home on the opposite bank was gone, and the riverbed itself moved a considerable distance to the west.
The park is located on Route 9N a half mile from the junction with Route 73 north of Keene.
In industrial times the river had been widened and straightened, which was good for log drives but made flooding more damaging as the waters raced downstream unimpeded.
With money from the Lake Champlain Basin Program and Keene Water District, the town worked with the Ausable River Association to rebuild the river, narrowing the channel, embedding stone weirs and creating relief valves for floodwaters. “It allows the river banks to begin rebuilding themselves,” Wilson said, adding that after two weekends of heavy rains, the new architecture was working as planned.
Linda’s Loop is a gentle meander through hardwoods with access to the riverbank, where about 20 hikers (and a red fox) admired the view. Keene Supervisor’s Clerk Ashley LeClair designed a storywalk on placards that young people can read “Daniel’s Good Day” as they hike. And on the other end of the spectrum, Slocum said the trail is attractive for senior hikers whose High Peaks days may be behind them.
The trail was cleared by volunteers who carried out deposits left by Irene and designed the trail to complement the river’s new floodplains. “The debris here was 20 feet high — you wouldn’t see over it,” Wilson said. Gear from the fire company washed up on the site, along with a picnic table that’s wedged in among the trees. Linda Dayo said the floodwaters washed out her flower beds, and that random clumps of daffodils from her gardens still bloom all along the river between Keene and Upper Jay.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to change the number of years passed since Tropical Storm Irene from 13 to 12