ELKHART — Local residents determined to show their support for the reconstruction of the Ox Bow Tower made a pledge and walked on a sunny, albeit cold, Sunday afternoon, raising $1,325.
More than 75 community members showed up Sunday, March 23, to participate in March for the Tower, Elkhart County Parks' final round of raising funds to rebuild the Ox Bow Tower, which was destroyed in a fire in July 2010.
Ronda DeCaire, superintendent of operations, said the parks department is now $1,500 away from reaching its goal of $130,500 to start building the tower in the summer.
Since the fire in 2010, the community has come together and donated thousands of dollars in support of the parks department.
DeCaire said the Elkhart Community Foundation gave a $32,000 matching grant last summer, and several local foundations have contributed with grants of anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000.
Local residents have also donated anything from $5 to $1,000 over the last few years.
"People are getting excited," she said. "They are constantly coming to the park and asking when the tower will be built."
The original tower was built in 1972. A year after the fire, Mitchell Keith Birr was arrested after a charge of arson was filed against him.
Birr pleaded guilty to the charge a few months later and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, with nine years of the sentenced suspended and on probation. Birr served the remaining portion of the sentence at the Elkhart County Community Corrections Department.
The Ox Bow Tower has a sentimental value for many in the community, including Gary Askew, who walked by himself to help raise money.
Askew would often visit the park with a friend and the two would exercise. They would run up the tower and try to spot deer and other wildlife.
"The park means a lot to me. My parents moved here in 1970 and I could bike here," he said. "I used to get up before daylight and come here and photograph nature."
AJ Hopper and his wife, Chellé, also participated in the walk. They brought their son, Clayton, who was one of 28 children participating in a 1-mile kids run.
"My mom used to bring me here all the time when I was a kid. This was our place to go," AJ said. "I brought (Clayton) over to see the tower once but it was gone."
AJ said he saw a news article previewing the fundraising event, and he wanted to help by participating.
"We live in Mishawaka now but we promised (our son) we would come to the march," AJ said. "I've told him about the tower before and I want for him to be able to see it too someday."