The violent thunderstorm that ripped through Waynedale has left Fox Island County Park in a precarious situation.
So many of the park’s trees were felled by the storm’s high winds (reported at up to 98 miles per hour at Fort Wayne International Airport) that officials have had to close the park to visitors, effectively shutting down the area’s revenue stream, and making it more difficult to pay for cleanup and other park expenses.
Just as it did in our area, the squall downed a number of trees, so many, in fact, that the park has been shuttered since the storm hit on June 13.
“We’ve probably got 800 to 1,000 trees down,” said Superintendent of Allen County Parks Jeff Baxter. “And about 400 to 500 trees are down across our trails and roads.”
“I’ve been here 15 years,” he said, “and I’ve never seen it this bad.”
Baxter noted that, luckily, the storm did not damage any of the park’s three buildings, nor did any of his employees get hurt. He said he was very relieved to hear from his park supervisor after the storm had passed that Monday night.
“I was never so glad to get a call at 11:00 at night,” Baxter said with a chuckle.
He noted that the damage from the recent tempest was likely worse than the similar derecho storm that slammed the area 10 years ago. “This one was probably twice as bad as 2012, and we had a lot of damage then,” he said.
Unfortunately, not only will the park incur the cost of removing and disposing of the fallen timbers, but it’ll lose the revenue of park admissions while closed.
“Losing these entry fees (while we’re closed) will have a long-term effect on our park,” Baxter said.
Baxter added that the damage is so bad that simply navigating the park’s hiking trails have become nearly impossible.
“Every time you get past a logjam, there’s another one blocking your way,” Baxter said. “And it’s not little trees that you can just kick out of the way, we’re talking big, 48-inch trees,” he said.
Baxter said one park worker recently tried to trek a park trail, a hike that would normally take about 90 minutes. But, because of trees blocking the way, it took her six hours to walk the same distance, he said.
He noted that closing the park was the only reasonable choice, mostly to ensure visitors’ safety. “I could get people into some places in the park,” Baxter said, “but I would have no way to guarantee that they’re safe.”
In an effort to begin cleaning up, he said a local drone hobby group has agreed to come to the park to help survey the damage in areas that are still inaccessible by foot. He also has scheduled a tour of the park for county park board members so they could see precisely how devastating the storm was to the park’s greenery.
“We want (the board) to see what we’re up against,” he said. “And the drone group will be a huge, huge help for us.”
Fox Island is a 605-acre Allen County park located at 7324 Yohne Road, and normally offers miles of hiking trails and a lake for fishing and swimming. Admission to the park is usually $2 per person.
Baxter said there’s currently no estimate for exactly how much damage – in dollars – the storm will end up costing, including the extensive, on-going cleanup.
Baxter estimates the park may remain closed until the end of July as cleanup continues. He said he realizes the storm has had an adverse impact on everyone in our area.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m whining,” Baxter said, “because I know Waynedale got hit really hard, too. We’ve got it tough, but our thoughts and prayers are still with everyone in Waynedale, as well.”