Six months ago, Kokomo Parks Superintendent Torrey Roe was beginning to think about winding down the summer softball season, securing the parks for the winter, and placing the annual Christmas lights display in Highland Park. 

But on Aug. 24, 2016, those plans were put hold when an EF-3 tornado ripped through the heart of Kokomo, causing major damage at Highland Park and the surrounding neighborhood.

Roe and his team quickly went to work clearing debris, not only from city-owned properties but also residents who needed help. As the debris was removed, it was evident that Highland Park took a direct hit. At the time, Roe said more than 100 trees were lost, and there was heavy damage to Southside Youth Baseball League and the handicap-accessible playground.

Fast-forward eight months, and Roe is excited about the upcoming busy season for the Kokomo Parks and Recreation Department. And part of that excitement is the progress that was made on the recovery efforts in Highland Park. 

“We have planted 150 trees,” said Roe, noting most of those were planted on the southeast side of the park. “We planted more than we lost because it is good for the environment. Plus, we kept some trees that we are not sure if they will make it.”

The handicap-accessible playground, which was located on the southern end of the park, was damaged heavily by the tornado. The Parks Department is currently in the process of relocating and integrating it into the main playground, located on Deffenbaugh Street in Highland Park. The main playground also is getting a major facelift and will be dedicated in early May.

“We have a really nice playground going in, and we have updated the restrooms,” said Roe. “One of the curly-cue slides will stay, and one will be relocated. The restrooms and playground will be (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. We will also have a new, multi-level play piece. It will be an all-inclusive playground for individuals of all abilities.”

Repairs to Southside also were completed with the assistance of the league in time for Opening Day ceremonies on April 15. Southside had major damage to its minor league press box, fencing, bleachers, and light poles.

“Southside is up and running,” he said. “The lights and fencing have been replaced, and the bleachers have been repaired. We are happy to get that youth league back in shape.”

Roe oversees 31 parks on 450 acres of land, plus other entities, such as Kokomo Beach, walk paths, pavilions, concert venues, the Showmobile, and the Jackson-Marrow Skate Park. 

One of the busiest places is the city aquatic center. Kokomo Beach will open on the weekend of May 20-21 before operating daily from May 27 through July 30 and slowing to the first three weekends of August.

“There are no major changes to Kokomo Beach,” he said. “For people who purchase season passes, we have allowed the lazy river water walking to be included. Last year it cost $2 to enter.”

Prices for Kokomo Beach remain the same – an adult daily pass is $5 and $4 for youth. Kokomo residential season youth passes are $50 ($75 for non-city residents), and adults are $60 ($90 for city non-residents). 

Another popular returning activity is the Recreation Adventure Program, which provides arts and crafts, games, storytelling, special events, picnic, sports, and physical fitness in a supervised park setting. The program will run from June 5 through July 21 from noon to 5 p.m., with crafts costing $1 each. The program will take place on Monday through Friday at Highland, Bon Air, Mohr, and Lafayette Parks; Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Garden Square Apartments; and Tuesday and Thursday at Pine Valley Apartments.

The Kokomo Park Band Summer Concert Series will feature eight nights of musical entertainment in Highland Park, beginning on June 7 when a special pre-concert will take place featuring the Indiana National Guard Band. Other highlights include Sally Duke singing with the Kokomo Park Band on June 14, a Patriotic Tribute on June 28, and the Grand Finale with the Kokomo Men of Note Barbershop Chorus on June 26.

“On any given night, there are between 600 to 800 people at a concert,” said Roe. “The Indiana National Guard will be here to kick things off, and they selected Kokomo as a concert stop. It should be a really good night.”

Other KPRD activities include Pooches at the Pool, Super Explorers, community garage sales, tennis lessons, water sprays, family movie nights, the Kelly Miller Circus (May 11 at Future Park), and Pint Size Chef.

For more information on Kokomo Beach or any park activity, call KPRD at 765- 456-PARK or visit www.cityofkokomo.org and click on the Parks Department tab. New to the website this year is a parks calendar that lists every activity the department offers.