After Geoff Paddock heard the windows rattle in his Headwaters Park Alliance office in the PNC building during Friday's storm he soon got to the downtown park to survey the destruction. About 30 trees, some large and dating back to when the park was established nearly 20 years ago to alleviate flood damage, lay in twisted ruins. A few had pulled up the concrete sidewalks around them as the 63 mph wind - with a gust recorded of 91 mph at Fort Wayne International Airport - swept through the city.
"The first thing I did was call our insurance company," said Paddock, executive director of the alliance.
He plans to meet with an insurance representative Monday to see what coverage the park has for tree replacement, but he wants to get the word out that the park is safe, and all events - including the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival - should be going on as scheduled.
Saturday,morning as a company unloaded chairs for the Latino Festival in the Lincoln Financial Pavilion on the east side of the park, Paddock showed the damage while the park alliance's small staff cleared debris. The process of tree replacement will likely take weeks, if not months, Paddock said, and he was hoping the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department could have someone come in to see if any of the damaged trees could be salvaged.
"We lost all kinds," said Jack Rhinehart, a park alliance worker, as he cleaned up brush near where a tree had knocked down a piece of ornamental fencing. Pines, cottonwoods, ornamental pear - and what seemed saddest to Paddock - a sweeping weeping willow planted in memory of the 168 victims of the Oklahoma City bombing on the 1-year anniversary of the April 19, 1995, attack.
"I remember standing next to (then-) Mayor Paul Helmke as we planted it," Paddock said.
Now, its tendrils of leaves lay spread on the landscape with a huge hole where it released from the ground. Next to it, its partner weeping willow stood unscathed along the riverbank in the west side of the park. As participants for the Make-a-Wish foundation's walk-a-thon came through they reported the damage they had seen. On this side of the park, which is cut in two by Clinton Street, tree after tree had been stripped of its canopy and stood with denuded trunks.
However, Paddock was relieved to know that the park had not lost any of its ash trees, which it has fought to keep alive against an invasion of the ash borer that has decimated others'.
The alliance has privately funded many of the projects for the park - which covers 22 acres of open land with another 4 acres each for its two festival pavilions - including an upcoming landscaping plan. So Paddock felt confident that whatever insurance didn't cover, the alliance could raise.
Most of the park remains cleared. The splash pad - or what the alliance, which Paddock believes was the first to install one, calls an interactive fountain - remains open to offer relief from the oppressive heat at a time when thousands of residents have lost electrical power, which may be days from returning.
The only thing park users need to know is to exercise caution as the cleanup continues. Huge branches blocked walking paths Saturday morning and yellow caution tape surrounded including one near the Madge Rothschild pavilion where a downed tree had upset a chunk of sidewalk.