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'We're talking years' McCormick's Creek State Park remains partially closed after spring tornado

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-30 11:18:24-04

Cleanup is still happening at McCormick’s Creek State Park nearly five months after an EF-3 tornado flattened a large portion of the park including the campground.

“We are talking in terms of years not months,” Kody Kirby, an Interpretative Naturalist at McCormick’s Creek State Park, said.

The EF-3 tornado impacted nearly 282 acres of the 1,961 acre park.

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According to the DNR the majority of campsite have this much damage or worse.

Kirby said the tornado was only in the park for about a minute, but with wind speeds near 150 miles per hour the damage was vast. The tornado's path was about 400 yards wide at its widest.

“It resulted in the loss of we're guessing between about 85 and 95% of the trees in the affected areas,” Kirby said. “We are talking thousands of downed trees."

The images below, provided by the Department of Natural Resources, show the devastation in the park. The campground took the brunt of the tornado’s force.

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McCormick's Creek State Park after initial road clearing. You can see all the downed trees, especially in the lower half of the photo.
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This is where the tornado went through Wolf Cave Nature Preserve.

“We have families who've been camping here you know for decades. People who've spent literally every summer of their life camping in this campground and it is really difficult realizing that folks are going to miss out on that opportunity this year and that we are going to be left with a campground that isn't really going to look like the old campground,” Kirby said.

There are signs posted through the park asking visitors to stay out of hazardous areas.

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Signs like this are posted throughout the park. Guests are prohibited from going into the hazardous areas.

“Please respect them. It's both hazard to folks who cross those closure signs as well as our crews out there trying to clear up the campground," Kirby said. "They need to be able to focus on keeping themselves safe as they are working through some hazardous environments."

Officials say it will be years before the park fully reopens, but it's not all bad news for McCormick’s Creek. Kirby said the tornado, while devastating, has brought new life to the park.

“We're already seeing a lot of new plant species and animal species utilizing that space," Kirby said. "So, in the grand scheme of things while it's really difficult to see that, I'm also really hopeful that we're going to end up with a really unique opportunity to learn about how tornadoes impact our forest."

The park is still open and operating just at a smaller scale.

There are several trails open for hiking, Canyon Inn is open as well as the cabins in the park.

The nature center, pool and saddle barn are also still open.

Current trail status:

  • Trail 1 (McCormick’s Cove Nature Preserve): Trail 1 is open.
  • Trail 2 (Statehouse Quarry): Trail 2 received significant damage and is currently closed. Please do not go past the closure signs.
  • Trail 3 (McCormick’s Creek Waterfall): Trail 3 is accessible to view the waterfall, but the wooden trail structure is damaged. Please do not go past the closure signs.
  • Trail 4 (Fire Tower): Trail 4 to the fire tower is open. The fire tower, not damaged in the storm, is open.
  • Trail 5 (Wolf Cave Nature Preserve): Trail 5 received significant damage and is currently closed. Please do not go past the closure signs.
  • Trail 6 in the campground is closed.
  • Trail 7 and 10 (Canyon Rim, Creek and McCormick’s Cove Nature Preserve): These trails received significant damage to trail structures. Please do not go past the closure signs.
  • Trail 8 (Accessible Trail): A portion of this trail from the pool/nature center area is open, but it is closed beyond Pine Bluff Shelter where it leads to the campground and to Trail 5 and Wolf Cave.
  • Trail 9 (Deer Run/Peden Farmstead): Trail 9 is open.

You can learn more about the park, recovery efforts and how to help by visiting theDNR website.