The snapped, twisted and subsequently cut trees at Wegerzyn Garden MetroPark help tell the story of the 15 mindless beasts that roared through the Dayton area on Memorial Day.
As with trees growing in residential areas, many of those inside the 88-acre park were no match for the tornadoes.
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Hundreds of bur oaks, silver maples, sycamores and other trees — some planted generations ago — were broken in two or snatched up, roots and all.
“We lost some of the oldest native trees in our area,” Chris Pion, Five Rivers MetroParks’ director of parks and conservation, told this news organization during a tour. “It will take a long time to replace them.”
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The park system is still evaluating damage at Wegerzyn, as well as at the Shoup Mill Conservation Area, located near Frederick Pike and Shoup Mill Road, and the Needmore Conservation Area, located near Needmore and Old Troy Pike.
Pion said Five Rivers will also determine how to best help the public recoup.
STRATEGY TO BE DEVELOPED
“We are going to do what we can to rehabilitate the habitats and help the community,” he said. “We are not 100 percent sure how that is going to look, but we are going to come up with a strategy.”
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That strategy would include a plan to help residents impacted by the tornadoes replace their trees, Pion and Kristen Wicker, Five Rivers’ marketing manager, said.
“That is at the heart of everything we do. It is important that we be a part of that conservation,” Wicker added.
Pion said animal and plant life in the hardest hit section of Wegerzyn and the conservation areas will need help as well.
“In areas where every tree is down, it is going to be difficult for that habitat to rebound (on its own),” he said. “We are going to have to come up with a way to help the environment heal.”
FEDERAL HELP WANTED
Pion said the park system does not yet have all of the answers to the problem it faces.
“We are still accessing how much natural area damage we had,” he said.
The park has budgeted for improvements and repairs, but could not plan for such a natural disaster, he added.
Pion hopes that FEMA will provide some financial assistance.
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“It is very difficult to plan for damage like this,” Pion said. “We have a commitment to make things right in the park.”
Wicker said the park district has not finished assessing how much has been spent thus far to mitigate tornado damage.
WHAT WAS DAMAGED, WHAT WAS SPARRED
Wegerzyn reopened Monday, June 10, two weeks after the most ferocious of the 15 Memorial Day tornadoes hit it at a vertical angle that went over Jay Lake and into the park’s swamp and wood.
It was critical to get the park, a popular attraction in one of the hardest hit areas of the Miami Valley, reopened, Pion said.
“One of the biggest things that we can do is to provide this place for people to come to relax and heal themselves,” he said.
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Many of Wegerzyn’s most beloved parts were spared from the monstrous tornado that ebbed between EF-3 and EF-4 as it traveled from Brookville to Trotwood, to Harrison Twp. to Dayton and then on to Riverside.
Pion said Wegerzyn’s Children’s Discovery Garden and administration building were virtually untouched.
Branches and other mangled flora that fell in the park’s manicured formal gardens have been removed.
The tops of trees on the edge of several of the park’s gardens have been cut away for safety.
That said, Pion called the damage that is there “extraordinary.”
Using the top of damaged trees as markers, he pointed out the clear path the storm took as it ripped through the park.
“I’ve never seen storm damage that comes close to the magnitude that came through with the tornado,” Pion said.
The wooden bridge in the Swamp Forest was smashed by giant trees. At one point near the middle, it is caved in and nearly halved.
“We are going to have to do some serious inspection to see what is broken,” he said. “It is going to remain closed for a while.”
The Marie Aull Trail will remain closed until dangerous branches can be taken out.
Pion said the road leading to the park’s 355-plot community garden was eight feet deep in downed trees.
A Montgomery County sewer pump station building was smashed.
Much of the canopy of trees that surrounded the community garden and a section of parkland managed by the city of Dayton are gone.
Now you can see tarps covering the roofs of nearby apartment buildings and houses.
“When you think about the age of the trees that are lost, that is not something that can be easily replaced, Pion said.