Storm makes Central Park a mess before NY Marathon

October 31, 2011 2:21:21 PM PDT
Workers cleaning up after a freak snowstorm raced Monday to clear fallen branches and splintered trees from paths and roads in Central Park in time for this weekend's New York City Marathon, which winds through the park.

Only about an inch of snow fell on the park, but it was so wet and heavy that it weighed down leaves and branches to the breaking point. After Monday dawned sunny, tourists snapped photos of branches littering the ground.

"The park looks sad with all the trees down," said Nathalie Pienoel, of the Normandy region of France. "But it's also beautiful."

The storm damaged about half the park's 800 acres and could end up costing it 1,000 trees, said Dana Libner, spokeswoman for the Central Park Conservancy, which runs the beloved urban reserve. It could cost $500,000 to repair the damage and replant.

About 100 conservancy workers were clearing and assessing the damage, and private contractors were being called in to help. Trees as large as 3 to 4 feet across were felled, Libner said. Many paths were blocked by yellow hazard tape Monday.

Staff members are "stretched between preparing the park for the marathon and responding to storm damage, but we'll be ready for the marathon and all related events," she said.

The area around the shuttered Tavern on the Green restaurant, where the marathon ends, was busy Monday, with workers erecting bleachers at the finish line and others feeding fallen branches into a chipper.

"We feel very comfortable that things will be ready" for the race, said Richard Finn, a spokesman for the New York Road Runners, the group that organizes the marathon.

A five-mile kickoff race that had been scheduled for Sunday was canceled, but Finn said he is confident the other events leading up to the coming Sunday's ING New York City Marathon will proceed.

Tim Zagat, founder of the Zagat restaurant guide, commented on the damage as he took his morning walk.

"It's sort of amazing to see such a lot of devastation caused by a couple of inches of snow," he said. "It reminds you that in some ways it's still a wild place."

Associated Press writer Ula Ilnytzky contributed to this report.