Chetek (WQOW) – On May 16, 2017, a deadly tornado took the life of one man and injured dozens of others in Barron County. Homes, forests and campgrounds in the area were devastated. Despite the passage of time, the damage is still evident as the community continues to clean up.
“We were in our sun room back here, and all of a sudden it came up,” said LeVerne Fox, manager at Back of the Moon campground in Chetek. “I mean, out of nowhere. Next thing we knew, we were looking out the window and trees were flying through the air.”
The tornado downed trees and destroyed anything in its path, but the damage didn’t end there, it also went through several Chetek campgrounds.
“The one on the corner down here, Back of the Moon, was totally devastated,” said Kristy Trowbridge, Chetek resident. Trowbridge survived the tornado and lives nearby the campground. “Every trailer was hit, and they had 50 trailers in there.”
Summer Haven and Northern Exposure, both campgrounds, also suffered several damaged trailers.
“Before it was beautiful,” Fox said. “Now it’s more or less a disaster.”
The tornado also cut down the community’s major economic draw.
“We are a resort community and it hit three campgrounds in our township,” said Mark Carlson, chairman of the Town of Chetek. “I can’t tell you what percentage of our income comes from tourism, but it’s pretty significant.”
Fox said the campground lost quite a few people, because of the stress and the way the campground looked. However, those empty campsites have been filled, but the reminder of that day two years ago remains.
“It’s coming back, but there are no trees,” Fox said. “You couldn’t see through here before.”
Fox said steps are being taken to bring life back into Back of the Moon. The campground now has nearly 400 newly planted trees, but like the wounds received that day, returning the scenery to what it once was will take time.
“It just really has changed the landscape,” Carlson said. “The trees just can’t be replaced overnight. It’s a long-time investment.”
Fox said the campground will continue to use its bathhouse as a storm shelter and monitor their phones closely for severe weather. Carlson said the community pulled together strong that day, and now, they are even stronger because of it.