Hormel nature center, Todd Park hit hard

Published 10:48 am Friday, June 19, 2009

Larry Dolphin arrived to work early Thursday to find snakes slithering on the carpet and a salamander with a piece of insulation on its head.

Such is life for the director of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center in the wake of at least two tornadoes that hit Austin Wednesday night.

Dolphin said he arrived to the nature center around 5:45 Thursday to begin with cleanup. The park was among the hardest hit areas in Austin.

“My office got a good cleaning today,” he said with a chuckle.

Indeed it did — a section of the visitor center’s roof directly above Dolphin’s office got ripped away in the storm. On Thursday morning, a temporary ceiling and a blue tarp covered the hole, and everything salvageable in the office had been cleared out.

Outside the visitor center, a number of trees littered the lawns of the nature center. Dolphin said Thursday that he hadn’t had time to assess the park’s various trails.

Helping Dolphin Thursday morning were volunteers like Terry Taylor and the center’s new intern, Ryan LeVeque.

Taylor, a member of the Friends of the Nature Center board, said he came to help as soon as he heard about damage to the center on the news.

“I knew there was a need for help,” he said.

“(I’m) more than happy to help the community when there’s a need.”

For LeVeque, Thursday was only Day 3 of his new job.

“It’s definitely not good,” he said of damage to the center, “but it could have been a lot worse.”

Dolphin agreed with that sentiment.

“It’s a little bit sad, but first thing was that no one was hurt,” he said.

“That’s the most important thing.”

And there certainly could’ve been injuries — the Cedar River Watershed District board was meeting in the Ruby Rupner Auditorium, no more than a few hundred feet from the damaged visitor center, when the storm hit.

Bev Nordby, CRWD administrator and district manager, said about 10 people took shelter in the bathrooms when the storm picked up. Nordby said she went under a countertop sink for more protection.

“It was frightening,” she said. “There was lots of noise outside.”

After a few minutes, the group came out from the bathrooms to assess the damage.

“I was looking outside the side window and was like, ‘Oh my God,” Nordby said of seeing the devastated visitor center nearby.

Nordby and company still had one more obstacle — a downed tree had them boxed into the parking lot. So, Nordby called her husband, who was able to come with a chainsaw and carve out an escape route of sorts.

Nordby said she felt lucky that she and everyone else at the nature center Wednesday night avoided injuries.

“It was so close,” she said.

Also hit hard Wednesday night was Todd Park.

Though there were softball games being played at the time, parks and recreation director Kim Underwood said no one was hurt.

Underwood said no one was using the fields that got hit the worst, where dugouts got ripped up and branches were scattered. Younger kids had their games called earlier Wednesday due to lightning and inclement weather.

Thursday morning cleanup was quite an undertaking, Underwood said, as a number of downed trees had to be cut and moved away before anyone could even reach the park.

Underwood said Todd and Wildwood parks were the only two parks to get hit substantially. She said she wasn’t sure when Todd would be all cleaned up.

Dolphin said Saturday’s Ecoblitz event at the center is canceled. The Thursday Nature Play was also canceled.