Arrowhead Park reopens after heavy tornado damage

Last year, Randy Callaway was lying flat on the ground with four relatives as a tornado blasted trees and churned dirt from Arrowhead Park through the air. A month and a half ago, Callaway stopped by to check on repairs: “I didn’t think they’d ever get it done, the way it was,” he said.

But Thursday, after an estimated $905,000 in reconstruction, Arrowhead Park reopened. A sell-out Labor Day weekend crowd will arrive today to check out the nicer amenities, which replace ones ripped apart in the 2008 Mother’s Day storms.

“It looked like a war zone the first day, and now it looks like a golf course,” said Walter Milner, a 15-year veteran of the county’s engineering department.

To get the park reopened, crews had to perform a broad variety of tasks: filling in holes where trees had been uprooted, pouring concrete, readying asphalt.

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart surveyed the park Thursday, now adorned with new campsites with clean metal tables.

“Mother Nature threw us a curveball, but you can see we hit a home run,” he told about 150 people at the reopening ceremonies. Most seemed to agree with him.

The park remains a mix of old and new. Last year, trees fell on top of the bathrooms. Today, they’re spotless, and the outsides are adorned with plaques describing how more than 50 people were sheltered during the storm. Sod is growing well across the park, but plenty of dirt patches are still covered under a nest of straw.

The hill down to the park went from well-forested to stripped nearly bare, with erosion to match. There’s no way to replace the decades-old trees lost in the storm.

But work continues.

Jake Corwine, who leads the Ocmulgee Mountain Biking Association, said someone may finish marking out a new trail route today. The storm wiped out most of about 7 miles of trail. The group hopes to rebuild with grant money and volunteer labor.

“We lost almost everything,” he said.

But the park is bouncing back. As it books up, it’s still drawing the interest of regulars like tornado survivor Callaway, who respects weather more today — just as he likes Arrowhead Park more.

“This is probably one of the best campgrounds we’ve been to,” the Macon resident said. “It’s super nice.”

And work will continue through people such as county employee James Bradley, who already has spent about 10 months helping to rebuild the park.

“We can’t help but be happy, because we put a lot of sweat, a lot of tears, a lot of pain” into the effort, he said.

Insurance covered most of the costs of reconstructing the park. Other funds, such as park entrance fees and a hotel/motel tax, paid for the rest, said Christy Iuliucci, the county’s assistant finance director.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.