The Russ Nature Reserve in Beavercreek will never be the same after the Memorial Day tornado, but plans are underway to restore the trails and children’s play area, and build an event center to replace the Russ House.
The 93-acre property on Kemp Road took a direct hit from the EF3 tornado and has been closed to the public because of hazardous conditions ever since.
“It looked like a game of pick-up sticks Tuesday morning,” Jon Dobney, director of Greene County Parks & Trails, said of seeing the devastation the day after the storm. “The trees were twisted and bent in every direction.”
Dobney said the insurance company just recently ruled that the 3,500-square-foot home where Fritz and Dolores Russ lived, which had served as a unique attraction for the public, is a total loss and must be torn down.
The parks department had plans to renovate the home and turn it into an event center. Dobney said the Thursday before the storm, parks officials had met with the city’s building regulations department to discuss the project. The bidding process was scheduled to start the Thursday after the storm.
“There was a tree growing right up through the middle of the home, and that tree survived the tornado,” Dobney said. “Our plan is to rebuild an event center.”
The public had a last opportunity to see the home before it’s demolished during an open house on Saturday.
The home was valued at up to $400,00 before the storm, and demolition costs are estimated at $20,000, according to Chuck Frazier, GCPT senior manager.
The Russes had the house built in the mid-1960s and it had many unique features, including a blender built into the kitchen countertop, an in-house communications system and mechanical blinds.
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Frazier, who has been with the parks department for more than 30 years, said seeing the tornado’s destruction at Russ Nature Reserve the next day “was devastating.”
“The property is near and dear to so many people and it will be so different. It will just never be the same,” Frazier said. “There were so many mature trees. Just majestic. It was so peaceful there, and it changed in the blink of an eye.”
Dobney said more than 800 trees have been hauled out of the park since the tornado. The plan is to reopen the park after the home is demolished. No specific time frame has been determined.
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