After four years of being closed, and a near death, Omaha’s Freedom Park reopened in October for a short fall season. The park, which is a naval outdoor museum, was closed in 2011, when a major flood hit the area. Several exhibits were damaged or destroyed as a result of the flood.
It could have been left for dead. The city toyed with the thought of abandoning the park. But, after four long years and hours of hard work, volunteers and the City of Omaha reopened the park to the public in early October for weekend visits.
Volunteers and city employees worked to clean up debris and equipment. They repaired pieces of equipment and vehicles. All to save a story they love to share.
The World War II minesweeper USS Hazard had been knocked from its setting during the flood. It was moved about 12 feet and was leaning on its side. A contractor came in and lifted the ship back to its spot last summer. Then, people went to work in repairing it and sprucing it up for the public.
The ship was impressive. As I toured it, it was difficult to even recognize it had been damaged. A volunteer was quick to point out areas that still needed to be addressed, but to the blind eye, it was unnoticeable.
You can stroll all over the Hazard. I checked out the area below the deck – kitchen, dining area, officers and enlisted quarters. The boat was a bit cramped.
As I stood on deck, I did notice some vehicles that had been tossed around by the flood waters. They were on a sand dune camouflaged by weeds.
After “inspecting” the USS Hazard, I ventured over to the USS Marlin submarine. The Cold War training vessel was never directly impacted by the flood. Apparently, water rose to within a couple of inches of infiltrating the sub. So, while other parts of Freedom Park had to be worked, the Marlin just required a cleaning after sitting for four years.
The sub was definitely a tight fit. I’m not sure how submariners handled it back in the day. The vehicle was small, cramped and walking through the doors basically required a step ladder. It was interesting moving from room to room.
I liked checking out the bridge. It was much smaller than you see in movies. A volunteer encouraged a child to look through it.
The public tour offered an opportunity to climb to the top of the submarine. That was interesting. Again, climbing through a small hole to get to the outside was a challenge. The volunteer told me that was how supplies were delivered to the sub. Then, as the supplies were unpacked they could laid on the floor, so you could be walking on supplies during part of the mission.
The Hazard and the Marlin are probably the most popular attractions at the park for now. That’s not surprising, since having a submarine and a World War II minesweeper in Nebraska are not that common.
However, the park has other naval attractions to check out. You could see the park has a field of anchors with several grouped together.
A Coast Guard helicopter shows the beating it took during the flood. Pieces of the propeller blades are broken or missing. The copter’s paint looks weathered. It doesn’t detract from it being an interesting exhibit, though.
Freedom Park offers the chance to check out a couple of Navy jets and planes during your walk about. They appear to be in overall good shape.
The park also includes radar equipment, missile and rocket launchers, as well as signs with ship names.
Freedom Park is closed for the season. But, it will reopen next spring. We recommend checking it out.
For more information, check out Freedom Park’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FREEDOMPARK/timeline.