Damage to Fossil Park in Rockford extensive

By Kelly Terpstra, kterpstra@charlescitypress.com

Adam Sears oversees about 3,000 acres as director of the Floyd County Conservation.

Late Saturday afternoon last week, parts of that area were devastated.

The Fossil and Prairie Center, located just outside of Rockford, was not spared from the high winds and torrential rain that slammed into parts of northern Iowa over the weekend.

“Out of all the areas, this is kind of our headquarters and base and this is where we were affected. It hit us at home here,” said Sears, who took over as director in 2014.

Super strong winds mowed down an estimated 300 trees in nearby Rockford. Flash flooding caused area roads to be closed and the Cedar River rose to above 12 feet, just entering the level of flood stage.

Electricity was lost on Saturday in Charles City and Rockford, but later restored. Two tornadoes were spotted — one near Mason City, the other near Forest City. Several other funnel clouds in the area were also reported to the National Weather Service.  

Wind gusts approaching 70 to 80 miles an hour snapped trees and unearthed huge root balls — some more than 12 feet in width — at the fossil park. Sears estimates more than 30 trees were downed at the park.

A log cabin built in the 1880s that sits on the preserve saw its roof completely ripped off from the storm. A top quarter of the log walls on the cabin were also sucked up by the wind and thrown aside from the foundation.

A maintenance shop at the park that was built in 2014 lost some of its protection from the outside elements as a portion of its roof was sheared off. A wide open gash with exposed insulation and ceiling remained.

The torn-off roof’s new location is currently the bottom of the park’s quarry, hundreds of yards away.

“It had its roof peeled back like an oyster can,” said Sears.

Insulation broke free and coated tools, vehicles and equipment in the shed. Directional and informational signs in the park are either missing or damaged. The center’s solar panels were twisted and contorted, but still working. The center’s wind turbine is also still functional.

An enclosed shelter also didn’t escape Mother Nature’s wrath. That building has window damage and a skylight blown off of it.

Floyd County Conservation planted almost $5,000 worth of trees near the picnic area of the preserve, right near where the old beehive kilns sit that were once used by Rockford and Tile Co. Massive trees there sit in ruin, laying on their sides, huge root systems pulled up from the ground.

“The tree damage to the picnic area near the kilns is devastating,” said Sears. “It’s a tangled mess.”

Sears said crews will cut, pile and then burn off the piles when they cure in the winter.

Sunday morning, Sears and his workers were able to put a tarp over a large portion of plywood on the center’s roof that was missing its shingles.

He said there were some small leaks that came into the building and wet carpet in several places, but no rain affected the brand new oak tree exhibit that sits below the tarp. The building also some fascia, soffit and siding damage.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation on Monday for seven counties, including Floyd County. Floyd County supervisors are expected to approve a county disaster proclamation at their meeting Tuesday.

“Right now we’re just dealing with insurance companies, and if we get some disaster clearance from the governor or something we’ll take that route,” said Sears.

Residents of counties affected in this latest string of storms are asked to report any damage so state and local officials can get a better grasp on how much damage was actually done to the hard-hit areas.

Sears also wanted to make sure to let people know that the center is still open and the public can enjoy the outdoor areas from sunrise to sunset. Office hours for the Fossil and Prairie Center are  7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Thursday.