WINTERSET, Iowa — A park and community devastated by an EF-4 tornado last month had something to celebrate Friday evening.
The Madison County Conservation Board released a rehabilitated screech owl into the wild at Pammel State Park near Winterset on Earth Day. The owl, which they named “Hootie,” was discovered injured along Highway 169 not far from the park four months ago.
“It looked like it was a little bit malnourished when we first picked it up, but now it looks very healthy,” said Madison County Conservation Board Director Steve Pearson.
Dozens of Madison County residents gathered at the park’s campground to watch Hootie’s first flight into the unknown.
The park was a symbolic place for takeoff; many of Pammel Park’s oak trees are still damaged from the tornado that tore through the county on March 5, including a 400-year-old oak regarded as the oldest in Iowa.
The conservation board decided to give Madison County Emergency Management Director Diogenes Ayala the honor of releasing the owl. Ayala said this moment is an important marker in the county’s healing process after the tornado.
“It still brings me back to the 5th,” Ayala said. “We’ve been through a lot in Madison County, and it’s something we won’t forget for quite a long time. We’re trying to be resilient and recover. It’s a great way to both celebrate Hootie and to remember what happened here.”