Conservation areas, Central Park take hits from derecho

This was the scene at the entrance to Central Park immediately after the derecho swept through the county on Aug. 10. The welcome sign blew over, as did several trees. (Photos courtesy of Jones Co. Conservation)

A large oak tree toppled over on the south side of Central Park Lake, barely missing a cabin. The majority of the damage at Central Park and other Conservation areas was due to lost trees, branches, and limbs.

The woodland areas of Central Park will be closed indefinitely as staff clears trees that were lost. This shows the extent of trees damage on the west side of the lake.
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     “I can say that of the 23 years I have worked here at Central Park, this was the worst damage from a storm event that I have witnessed. We have had other high winds and ice storms that have caused damage in other years, but none like the Aug. 10 event.”

     Those words were shared by Jones County Conservation Naturalist Michele Olson as she reflected on the Aug. 10 derecho that swept through southern Jones County.

     “The entire park was affected, especially heavily wooded areas of the park,” offered Olson.

     Conservation Director Brad Mormann said he was also surprised by the amount of damage to not only Central Park, but other Conservation areas as well.

     “We are all accustomed to thunderstorms and hearing of tornadoes making narrow paths of destruction across the state,” he said, “but rarely does such wide spread events occur.”

     All of the Conservation areas in the southern half of the county were hit by the storm, or as Mormann described it, “significantly affected.” Most of the damage was the loss of trees. Central Park and the Olin portion of the Grant Wood Trail took the biggest hit.

     “Fallen trees and broken and fallen branches were the primary issue,” noted Mormann.

     The upside, if there is one, is the fact that most of the Conservation areas don’t contain structures. So there was no damage to buildings in that respect.

     “We did have some erosion occurring along roadways, parking areas, and boat ramps,” Mormann said of the 3 inches of rain that fell in such a short amount of time.

     Focusing on Central Park, significant tree damage was quite prevalent throughout.

     “It took about four hours the day of the event for all staff to open the park roads enough to allow visitors and campers to come and go,” recalled Mormann.

     The derecho hit mid-day on a Monday, a day when the park isn’t as busy.

     Mormann said there were roughly 15 camping units sitting in campground, all spared from any damage.

     However, the woodland areas no longer look the same.

     “It will take time to restore woodland areas damaged during the storm,” warned Mormann.

     Aside from massive tree devastation, the park also lost power, internet, and cell service for a couple of days.

     Mormann praised the volunteers and staff who all worked hard to quickly restore the look of Central Park.

     “With our operations centered around the park, everyone was able to come together and start the cleanup efforts immediately.”

     This included nine Conservation employees, as well as many volunteers picking up debris.

     Conservation is still in the midst of cleaning up, even a month after the storm. Mormann said they are focusing on high-use areas at the moment.

     The wooded trails will unfortunately be closed for quite a while as they work to remove trees and limbs.

     “They are all currently closed,” advised Mormann.

     The fallen trees did cause some roof damage to the cabins, as well as minor damage to the Conservation shop and shelter areas.

     In terms of how many trees or a percentage of trees lost, Mormann said it’s hard to put a number on something like that.

     “The pine trees took the biggest overall hit with significant impacts throughout their 27 acres,” he said.

     It’s also hard to put a dollar amount on the extent of damage, too.

     “It will take time to cleanup and restore the damaged trees and park areas,” Mormann said.

     “With tree damage so vast, I think it is safe to say cleanup and the effects of this storm will be ongoing well into next year,” added Olson.

     As of Labor Day weekend, all but one camping site is open in the modern and semi-modern campgrounds. Many additional electrical and primitive sites have also open. Mormann estimates that all sites will be fully open by next spring.

     Despite the extensive damage to all Conservation areas in Jones County, Mormann remains optimistic.

     “Our woodlands are extremely resilient by having ground floor flowers, grasses, and other herbaceous vegetation ready to spring up in the gaps created,” said Mormann. “Over time, shrubs and trees will once again fill in the canopy above.

     “This process is the silver-lining as vegetative diversity fills the needs of the wildlife that depend on it.”


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