Burns Park in North Little Rock closed due to extensive tornado damage, along with two Little Rock parks

Trees lie on their side near a playground in Burns Park on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. More photos at arkansasonline.com/45cleanup/

(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
Trees lie on their side near a playground in Burns Park on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. More photos at arkansasonline.com/45cleanup/ (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

NORTH LITTLE ROCK -- Burns Park, North Little Rock's iconic and rambling multipurpose park, is closed for the foreseeable future, a victim of Friday's tornado, Mayor Terry Hartwick said Tuesday.

Every area of the 1,700-acre park -- the soccer fields, tennis courts, disc golf courses, amusement park, baseball fields and the new fire station -- sustained damage from the storm, he said, adding that an estimated 10,000 trees were destroyed in the park by Friday's tornado.

In Little Rock, Reservoir Park suffered extensive damage and is closed, as is Murray Park, city parks director Leland Couch said.

The damage at Burns Park is extensive, Hartwick said.

"It's some [areas] more than others, but everything is affected." Hartwick said. "We've actually just stopped working Burns Park as far as bringing people in here from jogging trails to the bike trails, everything, just stop it because as you can see, we've got a whole lot of work to do, without a doubt.

"I have to close the whole park if you think about it because everybody gets in and they want to see this so you start congregating. ... So there's areas in our park that we were going to have to open slowly," Hartwick said.

He noted that the public does not "have any idea" of the extent of the damage until they see it in person.

"You cannot even begin to count the trees and everything," he explained. "So we're working the problem. We're working the problem."

Uprooted trees, split down the middle and torn off at the top can be seen for miles throughout the park.

Parks and recreation director Steve Shields said he has visited the park several times since the reported EF3 tornado tore through it.

"I have heard from many different people [who are] concerned about Burns Park and anxious to get back out there," he said. "We've had so many volunteers that have reached out to us to help in many different ways. Right now we just have to keep it closed, from a safety standpoint, but we look forward to getting it back to where people in North Little Rock, Central Arkansas, so many people from outside of Central Arkansas and outside of our state come and utilize Burns Park."

Shields said the park is "an integral part" of the city and has been for many years.

"I run across people all the time who went to Fun Land when they were kids and they're 55 years old right now," Shields said. "This is such a tight-knit community, North Little Rock is, and there's so many things that go on inside of Burns Park."

He pointed out the clubhouses, the golf courses, the BMX track, the archery range, the tennis center, and the baseball and softball parks to say "it's such a wide gamut."

Burns Park is the third largest-municipal park in the country and "means a lot to a lot of people" Shields explained.

Park maintenance workers led by Jason Rhodes have been working "tirelessly" alongside city employees since late Friday, he said.

"We had multiple streets that we had to get cleared," Shields added. "We had multiple structures impacted ... [Off] Arlene Laman down to the RV park and there were so many huge trees down on Arlene Laman. ... We had campers back in there. We had employees of ours back in there."

Trailers flipped on their side and debris surrounded what was once a gathering place for campers.

"There were fish along the river like they had just been sucked up out of the water," North Little Rock Police Chief Patrick Thessing said. "Never seen anything like that."

Championship Drive, which is now closed off, also had to be cleared of debris, Shields said.

"Main street department, our street director Patrick Lane and his guys did an unbelievable job helping us and it wasn't a task that, I mean, continued throughout the weekend and into this morning," he said on Tuesday.

Hartwick recounted when he was trying to ride the rides at Fun Land just last Thursday. Now, torn-off tents lie next to Ferris wheel rides, seats of a tilt-a-whirl have spun around for the last time and uprooted trees lie where children used to stand in line.

The rides that were impacted are covered by insurance but will be assessed to see if any parts are salvageable, Shields said.

"Safety is our No. 1 concern right now," he explained. "So we'll make sure that everything is safe, but Fun Land did take a major hit."

The Senior and Dejanis baseball fields also took major hits, Shields said.

He described the tornado taking up a width of 400 yards and staying on the ground in North Little Rock for 5.7 miles.

In Little Rock, the 70-acre Reservoir Park was hit directly by the tornado and completely destroyed, Couch said.

The park's disc golf course is gone and it will be closed for an extended period of time along with the rest of the park. Couch said the city is using it as a debris dumping site to clear residential yards.

A high-voltage power line fell in Murray Park which set back its damage evaluation, he said. Entergy was onsite quickly to make repairs but the city wasn't able to survey the park until Tuesday.

The Park at Rock Creek had its wooden structures ripped apart and destroyed by fallen trees, Couch said.

"Reservoir will be months if not longer," he explained. "And Murray will hopefully just be a couple of weeks. We'll still have some cleanup to do down there and some repairs, but hopefully they will get certain areas open in some temporary manner after a couple of weeks."

Rock Creek, Couch said, is a "whole other issue" with its bike trail, and the city hasn't been able to address the full extent of the damage.

"We've been focused more on the parks that have our own amenities and in terms of structures, and making sure everything is safe."

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