When insurance won’t cover it: Paragliding club drops in to help Easthampton woman clean her yard after it was torn up by microburst

The Daily Hampshire Gazette. October 27, 2014. By Gena Mangiaratti.

EASTHAMPTON — Looking into the blue sky over Mount Tom on Saturday, Patricia Kusnierz gestured to the colorful paragliders approaching her yard.

“Ain’t that a pretty sight,” she said.

For Kusnierz, 62, the paragliders represent more than a splash of color. For 15 years, members of the New England Paragliding and Hang Gliding Club have been using her yard as part of their landing space. To return the favor, they have cleaned her gutters, added doors to her house and done other chores to help out Kusnierz and her father, Edward, who is now 93.

“Anything Dad ever needed to do, they were right there,” she said.

But when the Oct. 8 microburst knocked down three 200-year-old silver maple trees at her home at the corner of Holyoke and Hendrick Streets, the 70-plus club members decided to pay it forward a step further, and are now funding cleanup crews to restore her yard.

Because the trees did not fall on the house or another structure, Kusnierz said, insurance will not cover the costs of the cleanup.

The good deed was organized by Peter Williams, a paragliding pilot from Easthampton, and his friend Benjamin Perrault.

Perrault, 35, owner of Mountain View Farm on East Street, took up paragliding a year ago. He is helping to cover the costs of the work at Kusnierz’s home through his farm share with Treecycle Arborists, one of the companies doing the cleanup.

Williams said the job will cost the club members a total of $1,500, but that he is happy to help. In addition to allowing the club members to land on her lawn, she has been hospitable in ways such as driving them up to the Log Cabin parking lot below the cliff heads from where they launch, then driving their cars back to her home so that they will be close by once they land. She also does administrative work for the club, such as making sure members’ dues are up to date.

“That’s why we try to give back to her,” said Williams. “She’s gone above and beyond being a landowner.”

This was no more evident than when some of the club members noticed Williams being blown onto the wrong side of the mountain Saturday afternoon. Kusnierz and paragliding pilot Jeffrey Sanchez sprung into action and took a hasty drive down Route 5 to pick up Williams — who hurt his back, but stayed for the cleanup — on the other side of Mount Tom.

“You see how we kind of look out for each other?” Kusnierz had said as she hurried into Sanchez’s SUV.

Williams, 65, a paragliding pilot for 15 years, said he was able to skillfully land in order to save himself from disaster.

“This isn’t an adrenaline sport like skydiving,” he said, instead calling it an “adventurous thinking sport, because there’s an academic study of weather as well as the athleticism of flying the paraglider.”

More than two dozen paragliders sailed into Kusnierz’s yard Saturday while crews from Ben’s Stump Grinding in Springfield worked on clearing away sections of one of the tree trunks. Perrault said most of the wood is being given away to Kusnierz’s friends and neighbors to be used as firewood.

John Gallagher, 61, of Ashland, who has been paragliding for 21 years, said the damage caused by the microburst is especially noticeable from the mountain cliffs.

“It’s devastating when you get up there and look down on it,” he said. “But it’s great to be able to help out Ed and Pat.”

As some of the paragliding pilots went home in the late afternoon, Kusnierz hugged and kissed them goodbye.

“To me, this is peace on Earth,” she said. “It kind of restores your faith in humanity.”