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Secretary of Natural Resources views Staunton River recovery

Staunton River State Park welcomed Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech on Friday morning as he viewed the tornado recovery and reconstruction of the park from the April 16, 2011 tornado that left the park in devastation.

More than a year since the storm hit the park, it is up and running, and by summer all the trails will be fully operational too, according to Park Manager Josh Ellington.

“The park was closed for one month and one week after the tornado hit, but we’re open for business now,” he added.

Domenech said he came to see the clean up efforts of the staff at Staunton River State Park.

“I remember standing here the day it happened. I have photographs from that day…I just want to congratulate the staff on their fast moving efforts and the clean up effort. Just to see it today is amazing,” said Domenech.

District Manager Tim Vest said that what was once all a heavily wooded area now stands an open field from where the tornado spun through leaving it in ruins.

“It left a lot of devastation,” said Domenech.

However the future of the park looks promising. Despite the fact the storm affected 300 acres, 200 of that salvage cut area, the park officials plan to let the forest come back naturally, allowing for a mostly oak and hickory forest.

Since the storm damage, Ellington and Vest also said the positive and exciting thing is it has promoted wildlife. Now they have started to hear and see quails, which haven’t been in the park in the past.

“In the morning you can hear all kinds of birds singing,” said Vest.

“Having him here today and seeing how far we’ve come makes you proud to be an employee here. It’s hard to remember what it used to be like sometimes, but it’s a constant reminder of the stress and all we went through afterward and all the support from the staff, community, volunteers, local and state officials, and I’m just proud to be a part of it,” said Ellington.

The Staunton River State Park to date has spent $275,000 in repair costs with work continuing on the trail system that is expected to be finished by summer 2012.

“I encourage the public to get back out here. We’re open for business and better than ever,” Ellington said.