On July 27, 2010, then 19-year-old Michael Birr of Elkhart went to the revered Ox Bow Park observation tower that had graced the park since 1972 and set the redwood structure ablaze. Birr, who pleaded guilty to the arson in 2011, said he set the fire because he was bored. He was sentenced to three years in Elkhart County Community Corrections as part of a work release program, ordered to pay $69,640 in restitution and perform 1,200 hours of community service.
We have every hope that Birr makes the most of his punishment and moves on to have a productive life in the community after paying his debt to society. His dark deed that night was a horrible lapse in judgment. We are grateful nobody was physically hurt as a result of this act. Emotionally, the loss of the iconic tower did take a toll on the community. Elkhart County Deputy Prosecutor Jennifer Martin, said in court the county Park Department received more than 5,000 letters of condolence after the tower burned. The victims of the crime, added Elkhart Superior Court II Judge Stephen Bowers, are the residents of Elkhart County.
BECAUSE THE TOWER was considered a “non-essential” item in the park, it was not covered by the county’s insurance. So, in August of 2010 the Elkhart County Park Board agreed to allow the tower to be rebuilt if the funds were raised by the community. The cost of a new steel-based tower was estimated to be around $181,000. Shortly thereafter, the fundraising began.
The money for the “Rebuild the Ox Bow Park Tower” campaign trickled in slowly. Five bucks here. Twenty bucks there. A T-shirt sale added a couple drops to the bucket. The Elkhart County Community Foundation designated $32,000 for the cause. Members of the Two Rivers Running Club have hosted three Tower Run 5Ks to raise money for the rebuild. And the students and staff of Concord’s Ox Bow Elementary School raised more than $800 through “Tower Tuesdays,” a special spirit day each month in which students pay 50 cents to participate.