Tornado cleared path for new Sinclair Park plan

A group from; Miami Valley Regional Planning, Dayton Garden Club, M.V. Strong and Harrison Twp. look over around 375 large hardwood trees that came down during the Memorial Day tornados in 2019 in Sinclair Park in Harrison Twp. JIM NOELKER / STAFF
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A group from; Miami Valley Regional Planning, Dayton Garden Club, M.V. Strong and Harrison Twp. look over around 375 large hardwood trees that came down during the Memorial Day tornados in 2019 in Sinclair Park in Harrison Twp. JIM NOELKER / STAFF

The most destructive 2019 Memorial Day tornado destroyed Sinclair Park as it took down more than 300 trees, but it also cleared a path for Harrison Twp. to reimagine the once-forested area overlooking the Stillwater River.

“It’s essentially a blank slate right now,” said Merle Cyphers, the township’s services director.

The township will begin drafting a new master plan next month for the park that may include using the remnants of hundreds of mature trees downed in the tornado to rebuild the lodge also destroyed in the storm, officials said.

“We would like to do that,” Cyphers said. “We don’t have any idea about how feasible that’s going to be at this point.”

ExploreHarrison Twp. parks, Dixie strip, may never look the same after tornado

Before the Memorial Day tornadoes, Sinclair Park was home to about 415 mature trees. White oaks, hickories and hard maples dominated but beech, sycamore and other species also thrived there. A few of the sturdy hardwoods lost in the storm had taken root more than 200 years ago and grown to 60-inches in diameter, according to the township.

But the worst tornado of the region, an EF4 packing winds up to 170 mph, swept right through the center of the 13-acre park. The tornado brought down 340 of the trees immediately. Another 40 were too damaged to survive and had to be cut down and most of the ones remaining had to be trimmed, according to the township.

“We’ve got all the debris cleaned up and we’ve got all the logs stacked and we’re trying to figure out how we can utilize those in the new construction,” said Kris McClintick, Harrison Twp. administrator.

The township initially tried to find a way to auction the timber, but a stack of more than 400 logs remains at the park cut into 12- to 30- to 40-foot lengths that top out at 9,000 pounds, according to Cyphers.

ExploreSale of salvaged timber may defray repairs to tornado-ravaged park

Instead of hurrying to rebuild the lodge on its old footprint, the township is taking a more deliberate approach, McClintick said.

“Before we just jump into rebuilding something we want to see if that’s the best location,” he said. “We want to put something back but we want it to be a spotlight.”

The township has sought the input of Five Rivers MetroParks and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission but discussions are preliminary and only conceptual at this point. Groups will start working on more concrete plans next month, Cyphers said.

“It’s not something we’re trying to do entirely in house. We want to make that park as regional as possible going forward,” he said. “It’s our maintenance responsibility, but we also want to make it a regional asset as well.”

Sinclair park in Harrison Twp.
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Sinclair park in Harrison Twp.

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Credit: Mark Freistedt

Adding importance to a new master plan, Sinclair Park is a principal link for the future expansion of the Stillwater River Trail. The trail already reaches Sinclair Park from Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark. In future years, the trail is planned to stretch all the way north to Englewood MetroPark, said Carrie Scarff, chief of planning and projects for Five Rivers MetroParks.

“It’s a key to getting that bikeway through and on up along the Stillwater River. The bikeway can serve as access to all those residents,” Scarff said. “The bikeway will provide that connection for them to reach the park some way other than a car.”

Cyphers said the new master plan will include provisions for tying the park’s asphalt paths into the Stillwater River Trail access from Shoup Mill Road via a crosswalk.

“Over the next few years, we will be pushing to extend as much of the trail infrastructure as we can,” he said.

ExploreWalking the Path of the Storm

Though the storm cleanup is done and a playground has been rebuilt, the park remains closed and likely won’t reopen until summer, Cyphers said.

One picnic shelter needs repair and another is on order and should arrive next month for installation. New accessible sidewalks will be put in to serve the playground, according to the township.

When the park does reopen this summer, visitors will likely see safety fences, Cyphers said.

“It’s going to be a constant construction area for at least the next year and half,” he said.

Though some new trees have been planted, Cyphers said replanting efforts are largely on hold until the master plan is done and the site for the new lodge determined. But replanting will not be permanently suspended.

“We expect to do a few hundred new plantings over the next couple years,” he said. “We’re really going to make the effort to at least start the process of getting it back to where it was for future generations.”

The Memorial Day EF4 tornado devastated Sinclair Park in Harrison Twp., pictured here five months after the storm. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
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The Memorial Day EF4 tornado devastated Sinclair Park in Harrison Twp., pictured here five months after the storm. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF