'Months and months'

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — P.E.I. residents may be waiting a long time before they can safely enjoy some of the province’s most beloved hiking trails.

In fact, Island Trails is strongly advising the public to stay off the trails, as the risk of hanging branches falling and downed trees is still a major safety hazard.

Acting president Greg McKee told SaltWire Network cleanup efforts on the provincial trails haven’t started yet.

“We’ve had reports of a lot of hanging trees and trees falling down,” said McKee during an interview on Sept. 28. “There could also be bridges down and light poles that could cause serious injury.”

Cleanup efforts on the trails are all done by volunteers. Because many of their volunteers are still without power, no volunteers have been requested to start clearing the trails.

“Everyone is still dealing with their own problems, so we haven’t asked anyone,” said McKee.

During an emergency response briefing on Sept. 29, Premier Dennis King said the province does not have any plans yet to work on restoration of the trails, as getting roads cleared and power restored is still the priority.

“I think one thing we noticed yesterday doing the fly-over is how bad the damage is and how consistent it is across the province,” said King.

“In terms of Confederation Trail, I would ask all Islanders to be very careful. I’m sure because the trails are in wooded areas, I’m sure there’s extensive damage.”

Adam Fenech, director at the UPEI climate lab in St. Peters Bay told SaltWire Network he has never seen so many trees down from a storm, and he anticipates the region will see bigger and more violent storms in the future.

“Nature has been giving us warnings over the last few years, I think it’s advising us to get ready for more,” Fenech said during an interview on Sept. 29.

The damage to provincial trails in places like Bonshaw and Orwell Corner will likely take years to clean, he added.

Much of P.E.I.’s old growth was affected heavily from the storm, destroying ecosystems that could take up to 100 years before they fully recover. The destruction of these trees along many of P.E.I.’s trails will greatly affect their local plant and wildlife.

That said, said Fenech, nature is good at thinning the herd of trees to allow for more sunshine to the ground floor of forests.

“I’m sure in five years there will be a nice burgeoning forest again, but what we’re seeing now is just crazy,” he said.

“This is what we’re going to have to be dealing with.”

McKee said after post-tropical storm Dorian in 2019, several trail systems across the province were badly damaged. The Devil’s Punchbowl Trail in South Granville was particularly hard hit, but the damage was nothing compared to Fiona.

When asked how long the cleanup effort would take, McKee replied sombrely.

“Months and months. I’m not at all optimistic of a quick cleanup.”

Lower sections of the Confederation Trail in Charlottetown appear to be mostly unscathed. Several trees are down near the experimental farm, and the pathway leading towards the Wendy’s at Joe Ghiz Park remains blocked.

Depending on when power is fully restored to the public, it is unclear when the cleanup efforts will begin. The hope is to start by the middle of next week.

“I want to make sure people are very cautious if they venture into the trails because it is a very unsafe situation. My recommendation on the trails is to stay off them."

Rafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian