Tornadoes devastated Sinclair Park in Harrison Twp., wiping out playground equipment, picnic shelters, the lodge — and most startling — hundreds of hardwood trees, many that had taken root decades before Abraham Lincoln was president.
While shade from the lofty white oaks, hickories and hard maples is gone, dozens of their hulking trunks are stacked in a parking lot where they may one day help pay for their replacements.
“This park was an asset to the community, each of those trees is an asset,” said Merle Cyphers, the township’s services director. “We’d much rather have them standing and be there for people to use and enjoy. But given the situation we have now, we have to move forward. Being able to market some of that material will be a key factor in recreating what was here.”
Before the Memorial Day tornadoes, Sinclair Park was home to about 415 mature trees, also including beech, sycamore and other species. But the worst tornado of the region, an EF4 packing winds up to 170 mph, swept right through the center of the park. Between 350 and 375 were completely lost or significantly damaged, Cyphers said.
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 measurements and annual growth rings counted by Cyphers.
“Some of those oak trees were growing here 40 years before Lincoln was president,” he said. “Some of those trees started growing around 1814 and some probably sooner than that.”
Lincoln, the nation’s 16th president, was born in 1809.
‘Shocking to see’
Wendi Van Buren, visited Sinclair Park often during her childhood and it remains a favorite lunch stop now that her career takes her across the region as an urban forester for the Ohio Division of Natural Resources (ODNR).
“I grew up in the area , so I remember what it looked like before,” Van Buren said. “To go from the complete canopy, like a ceiling, to all the trees being gone, it was shocking to see that change.”
Van Buren was part of ODNR’s Urban Forest Strike Team that came in to save what was left of the 13-acre park. The team used tablets and an app developed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service to assess damaged trees and preserve those deemed survivable.
“A lot of times the default is to cut down all the trees. So instead what we do is we evaluate them using very well-established criteria on what trees could stay and what trees really should go,” said Van Buren, who covers the region from Waynesville.
The strike team also worked with the city Dayton, Beavercreek and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to evaluate tree damage in those jurisdictions.
Preventing storm-damaged trees from becoming a future hazard was a big reason the strike team was developed, said Alan Siewert, an ODNR urban forester based in Newbury.
“Two three four years later, these trees were either falling, failing or dying,” he said.
The trees still standing in Sinclair Park may appear less than healthy now, especially viewed bare of spring growth, but they should rebound, Van Buren said.
“These have a chance to recover. We’d like to give them than chance” she said. “They look structurally sound,” she said. “They look pretty good. That doesn’t guarantee anything. They’re not 100% safe but they look pretty good.”
Valuing timber complex
The township’s hope is to sell the timber — cut in 12- to 30- to 40-foot lengths that top out at 9,000 pounds — and use the proceeds to defray park rebuilding costs, Cyphers said.
Determining what it may fetch on the market is a complicated process that takes into account dozens of factors including the species, the size of a log, the quality of the wood and how difficult — or not — it is to get that wood out of the ground and to a sawmill or the sawmill to the logs, said Justin Law, an ODNR service forester.
“There are a lot of variables, just like anything that determines value,” he said.
In the case of the logs at Sinclair Park, they are already out of the ground and stacked side-by-side. But whether the timber was damaged beyond outward appearances could also weigh into the value.
“Sometimes it may be busted or twisted,” Law said. “It’s a case-by-case basis whether or not those trees are merchantable … If they are commercial hardwoods and they’re solid there’s a lot of potential for them to be utilized … At the same time when you have damaged woods, it can be a complex.”
Based in northwest Ohio, Darryl McGuire specializes in selling timber at auction. A recent auction he conducted for a property owner with 30 acres of timber fetched $150,000, McGuire said.
It’s difficult to value trees without a close inspection, but a single three-foot diameter white oak could bring in as little as $250 or demand up to $2,000 if it has few knots and can be used for veneer, McGuire said.
Like Law, McGuire said stress of weathering the storm may have affected the timber’s worth.
“It’s been through the wind so it could have what they call wind shake, and you know, that that could pull the value down,” McGuire said.
Harrison Twp. is examining the legal process trustees must take to sell the timber, Cyphers said.
McGuire, who conducted an auction last year of the timber on 42 acres owned by the Newton Falls Exempted Village Schools, said he and the school board followed a process outline in the Ohio Revised Code for public entities. A township disposing of property valued at more than $2,500 must give public notice and conduct the sale by public auction, according to state law.
Nearly all construction and tree debris has been cleared from Sinclair Park, but it likely won’t reopen to the public until next year at the soonest, township officials said.
“It looks like the bulk of the cleanup is done now, but that’s more along the lines of the heavy lifting portion of it. It will probably take us the rest of the year … to get the park back in a usable condition where it’s safe for residents, Cyphers said. “A lot of holes have to be filled in, stumps ground, repairs of structures, things of that nature.”
The next generation of native species will be planted next month. On April 18, volunteers from Leadership Dayton along with Harrison Twp. residents and employees will plant 66 new trees, work supported in part by state and county grants.
Experts say there’s no way to determine how many thousands of trees were toppled across the region Memorial Day night. But trees are a necessity for community life, providing shade, storm water interception and health benefits for residents, Van Buren said.
“We just feel better when there’s trees so I’m really hoping that the community follows Harrison township’s lead and begins replanting,” she said.
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