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Northwood rising: Reforest gumption

NORTHWOOD, N.D. -- When Jerry Bergene and Randy Lamarr emerged from their homes after last year's tornado left town, their tidy, tree-lined Park Street neighborhood had changed.

NORTHWOOD, N.D. -- When Jerry Bergene and Randy Lamarr emerged from their homes after last year's tornado left town, their tidy, tree-lined Park Street neighborhood had changed.

Once picturesque, the neighborhood was littered with parts of houses, with trees and branches, even the tail section of an airplane that had been parked at Northwood Municipal Airport, a mile away.

"This was the path," Lamarr said.

The Park Street neighbors found cottonwoods, tall evergreens and hundreds of smaller trees strewn around their yards. Pictures taken in the aftermath resembled a jungle, especially in the backyards.

Much of the debris came from a century-old shelterbelt that lined the west side of town.


The shelterbelt -- some 800 feet long by 100 feet deep -- was built of cottonwoods planted as long ago as 1898, with evergreens and other varieties of mature trees. It provided protection for the Bergenes, the Lamarrs and four other families who live on the west side of Park Street, and for the adjacent Northwood Deaconess Health Center.

That shelterbelt served as Northwood's front line of defense against the treacherous tornado. The National Weather Service said the community's trees created a sheltering effect for homes and other structures, preventing the brunt of the twister's swirling winds from reaching the ground.

Volunteers arrived the next day to start clearing debris.

"You can't believe the volunteers," Bergene said.

"Without them, we'd still be cutting wood," Lamarr said.

They had one estimate that it would have taken $110,000 to grind all the stumps and haul the debris. Instead, they did it with volunteers.

By the time the Park Street cleanup was complete, 102 cords of wood and 75 side-dump trucks were used to haul away the debris.

Old-growth disaster


Throughout Northwood, the tornado destroyed hundreds of century-old trees -- estimated at 70 percent of the city's mature tree stock -- that helped to define the community. There were oak, ash, maple and cottonwood trees, as well as apple and cherry trees. Northwood has been recognized as a Tree City USA for the past 23 years.

While the city coordinated a tree-replanting effort throughout the community -- using linden, mountain ash, hackberry, lilac, maple, honey locust, apple and cherry trees -- Bergene, Lamarr and their neighbors took up the cause to recreate the Park Street neighborhood they've grown to love.

Six neighbors and the hospital pooled together about $30,000 to replant trees in their front and backyards. They planted more than 200 -- 68 evergreens, 75 poplars and many other varieties, including a type of seedless cottonwood. They estimate the normal cost for such an effort would be more than $170,000.

Most of the new trees came from All Seasons Garden Center in Grand Forks.

"This was the largest private effort undertaken in town," said Lamarr, a Grand Forks Air Force Base employee whose family has lived in Northwood for just two years.

Bergene, a retired teacher whose family has lived on Park Street for 41 years, said there was no hesitation among his neighbors when it came to replanting trees.

He recalls the neighborhood 20 years ago, when both sides of Park Street were lined with tall elm trees. That was before Dutch elm disease reached Northwood in the early 1990s.

"It was a huge canopy," Bergene said. "You couldn't feel the wind.


"Today? Oh my, you can feel every little breeze."

But they have hope for the not-to-distant future. Some of the replanted trees, including the cottonwoods, should grow six to seven feet a year.

"In five years," Lamarr said, "that shelterbelt will be esthetically perfect."

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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