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Allen County's Fox Island Park set to reopen for the first time since a derecho tore through it in 2022

The sign at the entrance of Fox Island Park days before the 605-acre park opened to the public for the first time since a derecho tore through it in 2022
Tony Sandleben
/
89.1 WBOI
The sign at the entrance of Fox Island Park days before the 605-acre park opened to the public for the first time since a derecho tore through it in 2022

Friday marked two years since Allen County’s Fox Island Park closed. A powerful derecho hit the park the night before creating conditions so dangerous, the park could not remain open to the public.

When the derecho hit on June 013, 2022, wind speeds reached 98 mph at the Fort Wayne International Airport, according to the National Weather Service.

As an F-16 from the 122nd Fighter wing flew overhead, Allen County Parks Superintendent Jeff Baxter said the devastation made Fox Island look like a warzone.

“It looked like we’d let them (the 122nd Fighter Wing) go, and they’d practice bombing out here,” Baxter said.

Baxter said the timing of when the worst of the derecho hit likely made the difference in the aftermath. He said it hit the park after it closed that day and that that may have been the difference between recovering trees and recovering bodies in the aftermath.

“If we had been open and we had people standing back here where we’re standing right now, we would have probably lost a lot of lives, and we might not have found those people for quite a while,” Baxter said

Baxter said the community loses roughly 3,000 trees a month due to various construction projects. He said that’s how many trees fell in the 15 minutes the derecho struck the 605-acre park.

With less than ten full time employees staffing the park, Baxter said community volunteers and donations made a large impact on the recovery effort.

“I could ask any of my staff. We would’ve stayed closed for another year,”Baxter said when asked what would have happened without that community response.

Baxter said he is “nervous” about opening again Monday morning. He encouraged people to wait to visit the park until later in the week to allow the staff time to adjust to having guests at the park again.

Most of the trees that fell were hundreds of years old. Volunteers and staff planted 7,000 trees to replace those that fell, but Baxter said the park will likely not look the same again in our lifetimes.

The park will reopen Monday morning at 9:00.

Tony Sandleben joined the WBOI News team in September of 2022.
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