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Battered parks struggle to recover At seasonally demanding time, remnants of storm damage pose especially daunting task for communities throughout area

A day at the park might not be quite the same this summer.

Instead of the gentle hum of birds and bees on a lazy afternoon, you are likely to hear the roar of buzz saws removing tree limbs still dangling after October's devastating storm.

Part of Lincoln Park, one of the Town of Tonawanda's premier locations, is closed because of storm damage, and the park's picnic shelters are shut.

Like nearly all other communities, Cheektowaga is scrambling to remove storm debris, some of it deposited by the parks' neighbors.

Williamsville, meanwhile, is coping with everything from a plastic slide impaled by a falling limb in one park to benches in Island Park so warped and twisted that only the bravest would dare sit on them.

Damage to Buffalo's renowned Olmsted Parks system has gotten most of the headlines and attention from politicians and others. But destruction cut a wide path through hundreds of other town and village parks. Some of the damage has been discovered only recently now that the ground finally is dry enough for close inspection.

The village's parks "took a beating," said Williamsville Mayor Mary Lowther, who figures Island Park's benches buckled when they shouldered mounds, 20 feet and higher, of debris left in the storm's immediate aftermath.

"The damage was astounding," she said of Garrison and Island parks. "It's going to be a while before we can get everything together."

From the Buffalo jewel known as Delaware Park to neighborhood parks like Williamsville's Garrison, the picture is sadly similar.

Eight months after one of Western New York's most damaging snowstorms, parks and public works employees, diverted from normal summer preparation of parks, are playing catch-up.

And they are definitely sweating it right now.

Even in a normal year, this would be known as "crunch time" -- an unusually hectic period when the weather finally is dry enough for workers to put the finishing touches on local parks, such as applying mulch, planting flower beds, mowing the grass, preparing to open pools and sprucing up picnic shelters.

Grills always need replacing; soccer fields, baseball diamonds, tennis and basketball courts require work; and playground equipment needs attention.

This summer, communities will concentrate on replanting, another task far bigger than ever. West Seneca alone expects to plant about 300 trees, concentrating on Harlem Road, Sunshine Park and the town's soccer fields.

So many trees simply were "busted up," said Steven Amoia, the town's general crew chief.

"It's going to take a couple of more weeks trimming, picking up branches," he said.

Cheektowaga, too, is rushing to get ready for the summer onslaught of park visitors, which tends to start around Memorial Day.

"In some things, we're a little more behind than usual," parks foreman Doug Dixon said.

Even with the biggest limbs gone, plenty of remaining debris can cripple a lawnmower. That prompted workers to rake Cheektowaga Town Park on Harlem Road by hand.

Talk about time-consuming.

Then, some residents whose backyards adjoin Cheektowaga's neighborhood parks have been tossing their storm debris into the parks, rather than haul it to their curbs.

"It becomes a nuisance," he said. "We can't pinpoint where they [the piles] will be next."

Be prepared for other differences. Some of the leafy canopies that provided so much shade last summer will be gone. Some parks will look more sparse. The Town of Tonawanda's Lincoln Park alone, for instance, lost up to 15 percent of its 750 trees.

Officials, therefore, are asking the public for patience.

Lowther said Williamsville is trying to find a replacement for the Garrison Park slide left with a gaping, jagged hole. She and various volunteers will be out there with paint buckets and other equipment to tend to worn playground equipment. Employees will reseal the park's big wooden play structure as well.

Now, with a new budget, the village even can afford to restock the sand boxes at Garrison and Island parks, she said.

Daniel J. Wiles, director of youth, parks and recreation for the Town of Tonawanda, said workers are hustling the best they can to meet deadlines, but progress is sometimes slow because the devastation was so unprecedented. The public, others said, probably remains unaware of the full extent of the damage.

Lincoln Park, for instance, was used as a collection area for the storm's debris, mostly because it had a road that could accommodate trucks without causing too much additional damage to the parkland itself.

But that part of the park felt the pain, and even this week, after crews planted more than 100 trees to replace those damaged or destroyed, it still does.

"It looked like the Russian front," Wiles said. "Now, it's a continuous work zone."

"Think of your own yard," after the storm, added Dixon, the Cheektowaga parks foreman. Now multiply it more times than you can count.

"That is what we are dealing with."

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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