The first weekend in August, I visited friends in Comstock, Wisconsin, a small community in Barron County in the far northwest part of the state. Less than three weeks before my visit, a line of strong thunderstorms rolled through the area with tornados and straight-line winds, ravaging trees and property in its path. My heart became heavy as we approached our friends’ home, the path of destruction evident mile after mile.
The roadsides were piled with downed trees and brush, cut and pushed aside just enough to allow cars to pass. The days following the storm, we were told, snow plows were pulled from their summer slumber and used to push trees and debris from the roadways; some residents had to park their cars and walk home because the roads were impassable.
The forests were mangled with fallen trees, toppled and tangled together, many with their top half missing, some entirely uprooted from the ground. Those left standing all leaned in the same direction, permanently stooped by the wind. Entire wooded lots were reduced to a toothpick topography. One homeowner reportedly lost 83 of his 85 trees in his yard. Another who was about to close on the sale of his house was told no deal as the buyer walked away from the treeless yard and damaged property.
Following the storm, powerlines were down, leaving some residents without electricity and water for a week. While our friends were much more fortunate than some of their neighbors, it is still costing them thousands of dollars to remove the limbs, trees and stumps from their yard.
As I kayaked Loon Lake at the foot of their property, the neighborhood buzzed with chainsaws and skid-loaders as cleanup continued 18 days after the storm. Crews from the National Guard assisted with cleanup efforts. Trucks beeped from every direction as they moved about the area. A tree stump removal service moved from house to house, grinding up tree stumps.
I slowly paddled around the lake, taking in the damage, and further explored nearby Crystal Lake, also surrounded by fallen trees and wind-thrashed property.
The number of trees razed was unbelievable. The houses and outbuildings remained mostly intact, at least around Loon Lake. We saw a few collapsed buildings and rooftops—and while kayaking, even discovered a good-size garden shed dunked in one side of Crystal Lake. Overall, the community was lucky—nobody was killed or injured in the storm.
After two subsequent weekends of cleaning up their property, our friends were ready for a rest. Our visit gave them an excuse to play on the lake, tubing, swimming, floating and talking. The water of Loon Lake was placid, a welcome distraction from the damage and noise along its shoreline. We are grateful to our friends for inviting us to share this special place with them.
While Comstock looks beaten and battered, its people are not. Day after day, they are picking up the pieces and rebuilding their lakeside homes. Great progress has been made, yet much work lies ahead to restore this beautiful little community, this piece of “heaven on earth” in northwest Wisconsin.