Will Holiday Beach be ready for Festival of Hawks? Too early to tell, says ERCA

Cleanup crews are hard at work trying to get the Holiday Beach Conservation Area ready for the second weekend of this year's Festival of Hawks.

The first weekend was cancelled after a severe storm tore through Amherstburg, Ont., damaging homes and ripping trees from the ground.

Friday's storm blew down approximately 250 trees across Holiday Beach, according to the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA).

"We've never seen damage like this ever," said Kevin Money, ERCA's conservation services director. "You can't walk 30 or 40 feet without coming across a large branch or a tree that's completely upended or broken right in half."

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During his 17 years with ERCA, Money said storms can bring "one or two" tree limbs down to the ground — but Friday's storm was "devastating."

"There's not an area of the park that isn't affected."

The conservation authority is currently cleaning up Holiday Beach with the help of 10 on-foot maintenance workers, chopping down hanging branches at of falling.

ERCA has also contracted out a tree-cutting company, chipping downed trees which need to be cleared from the conservation area.

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"We're reaching out to other tree companies to see if we can get them in here as well to help deal with all of the hazards that we have in the park," said Money, adding he hopes to increase the number of maintenance workers to speed up the clearing process.

There's a lot of work to be done before ERCA can even consider staging the Festival of Hawks.

According to Money, the conservation authority must ensure that all "dangerous" tree limbs have been downed. Then, those limbs must be chipped and cleaned from the park trail.

"Once we get it all down, we'll have an idea of how much longer or how much time we have left ultimately," he said.

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But the big question is when exactly the conservation area and beach will be reopened to the public.

"I don't have an answer. The crews are working as hard as they can," Money said.

Jordan Danielewicz, one of the 10 on-foot maintenance workers chopping up trees with a chainsaw, said he's never seen damage like this in any of ERCA's conservation areas since he started working with the organization a year and a half ago.

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"Of course, we get the odd tree down from a storm or two that passes through the area. But this is crazy," he said. "Every tree is basically hit in this park. It's absolutely nuts."

He said it's possible that Holiday Beach Conservation Area will look "back to normal" by Friday, but it's also possible that crews will be on cleanup duty for the next two weeks.

"It obviously is a challenge because you've got branches that are piled on top of each other. We've got entire big trees down back here which are going to take a little bit to cut up," said Danielewicz.

"You just got to go about it as safely as possible — and hopefully we have it up and running soon."

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