1938 Hurricane

Human Interest Stories - Beavers Save the Day

The following is an excerpt from Everett S. Allen's: A Wind to Shake the World: The Story of the 1938 Hurricane.

At Stony Point, NY, 60 colonies numbering more than 500 beavers manned their dams in the park's 42,000 acres when the storm broke. There were 60 dams in the beavers' defense line, the principal restraining force against rain-swollen rivers, streams, and ponds.

The size of the problem confronting the animals was impressive. Long Mountain beaver pond, for example, was created by a dam in what was normally a three-foot-wide stream; the pond ordinarily covered about five acres in the center of the park. On Wednesday night, with a roiling stream widened to almost 20 feet and the pond doubled in size, the beaver dam, made of mud, sticks, stones, and sod, withstood the pressure and fed 18 inches of fast-moving water over its top.

Another dam of critical importance was wedged between boulders 30 feet apart; as with all the others, it was completely submerged at the storm's peak, yet never showed a sign of yielding to the strains of water upon it. John J. Tamsen, superintendent of Bear Mountain Park, and William H. Carr, director of the Trailside Museum, maintained by the American Museum of Natural History, credited the beavers - who cut down trees all through the night of the hurricane to reinforce their wood-and-mud bulwarks - with having saved three arterial highways from serious flooding, preventing the certain destruction of at least one bridge, and retarding the erosion of hundreds of acres of soil.

Carr said had it not been for the beaver dams "backing up perfectly terrific bodies of water, in some cases, more than 200 yards across," Long Mountain Road, U.S. Highway 6, and the Johnstown Road would have been transformed into rivers for distances of up to a quarter of a mile and the same would have held true of U.S. Highway 9W, the main road along the west shore of the Hudson, and Route 17 linking Tuxedo park and Harriman, to the north.

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