Progress being made to restore Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden after tornado

Sleeping Giant State Park, hit hard by a tornado in May, has gone a long way in clearing downed trees on the Tower Trail and the Pine Grove picnic area is still in the difficult process of cleaning up the heavily damaged area.

It was peaceful on the Tower Trail at Sleeping Giant State Park on a recent Thursday, with birds and cicadas calling and the thrum of traffic and tools off in the distance. On top of the namesake tower, turkey vultures rested easily, then flew off into the summer sky.

With your eyes closed, you could believe the May tornado never happened.

But evidence of the calamity that reshaped and shuttered the park was plain to see — logs and branches piled alongside the path, broken trees in the brush, potholes gouged by machinery.

Crews are working to repair Sleeping Giant State Park and its showcase trail, but there’s more to do.

“There’s still a substantial amount of work to go. This is going to be a little bit,” said Chris Collibee, spokesman with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “I understand, we understand, how much people love this park, but the critical thing is that the park is made safe for park-goers.”

Collibee said progress is being made appropriately — this process takes time. The aim is to restore the park holistically, not haphazardly, he said.

He said the lower picnic area has been cleared — the sea of trees that previously greeted visitors as they entered the park, damaged in the storm, is now gone, to be replaced by grass for the time being — and the Tower Trail also has largely been cleared.

But the side trails are still damaged, with the Sleeping Giant Park Association working on them; the parking and picnic area is being redesigned; and the Tower Trail will be widened, allowing vehicles to clear the wood and brush that remains there and ultimately speeding travel for emergency responders, he said.

Even today, those working in the park still hear trees and limbs falling to Earth, he said.

Park Supervisor Jill Scheibenpflug said though that while the storm was devastating and sad, it provided new opportunities as well. Workers can plant hardwood trees in the picnic grove, which will hold up better than pine. The restroom building will be replaced — a task that needed to be done, pressed to the fore by a falling tree.

“I’m trying to look at the good things, because it’s just so devastating, you have to kind of find the silver lining,” said Scheibenpflug. “At some point, you have to come up with a positive side of it, too. It’s a blank slate and hopefully we’ll make the right decisions and make the park look really nice. It’ll be different, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be nice.”

Collibee said there is no timeline for re-opening Sleeping Giant.

He stressed that people should stay out of the park at this time, as it remains hazardous, and suggested people try the other parks maintained by DEEP, which have their own beautiful views. Wharton Brook State Park in Wallingford will hopefully re-open by the end of summer, he said.

And while the face of the Giant has changed and work remains, the place will restore itself, Collibee said.

“The park does look different. But, in time, it will heal itself,” said Collibee. “Ultimately, we’ll get this park re-opened — and the park will come back.”