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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Tornado outbreak had major impact on Western Ky. outdoor recreation facilities

Last weekend’s tornado outbreak, the most severe in Kentucky’s history, impacted about 20 counties in western and central Kentucky, destroying or damaging hundreds of homes and businesses, with an unprecedented loss of life.

The National Weather Service reported eight tornadoes, as of December 16, one of which stayed on the ground for almost 250 miles in Kentucky. Along the path of the tornadoes, electricity and communications were cut, and roadways were littered with debris, downed trees and power lines, which hampered rescue efforts.

News coverage has been focused on the hardest-hit areas, where there was the highest loss of life, property damage, and search and rescue efforts are ongoing.

But the destructive tornadoes also had an impact on outdoor recreation facilities including state parks, major lakes, a national wildlife refuge and national recreation area, and a new state wildlife management area, whose opening will be delayed.

Here’s what is known now in this fast-developing storyline:

A NWS Weather Prediction Center graphic of the path of the storms.

• A large tornado, spawned in Arkansas, moved into Missouri, jumped the Mississippi River and landed near Reelfoot Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a popular fishing, eagle viewing, and waterfowl hunting destination on the Kentucky/Tennessee border. The large natural lake was formed after the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812.

A employee at the refuge said the headquarters building was undamaged, but she said Reelfoot Lake was covered in debris, and that it was too early to determine if the storm had an impact on the waterfowl and eagles starting to migrate onto the refuge to overwinter.

A town along the lake, with numerous lakeshore businesses and guide services, was not so lucky. Samburg, Tennessee, took a direct hit and suffered major damage, according to Samburg Police Chief Chris Cummings.

• The tornado that leveled Mayfield, Kentucky, continued northeast, and crossed Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL).

A posting on the LBL website said that the Golden Pond Visitor’s Center was closed due to a power outage, and The Woodland Trace (Ky. 453), the north/south route through the peninsula, was impassable at several points, due to fallen trees and downed power lines.

The Storm track through Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (Ky Geological Survey graphic)

• The track of the storm that hit LBL went through Marshall County, on the west shore of Kentucky Lake between Little Bear and Big Bear embayments. Residential housing and businesses in the vicinity took a big hit.

Wade Boggs, director of Marshall County Emergency Management, said the area has experienced “widespread damage and devastation.”

Cambridge Shores, a predominantly vacation home community, off Ky. 963 near Moors Resort & Marina, was flattened.

The National Weather Service reported that a tornado of at least EF-3 strength passed through Benton and across LBL.

The storm continued across Lake Barkley and hit the Eddy Creek embayment, destroying lakeshore homes and businesses, downing power lines and temporarily blocking roads, including Ky. 93, between Barrett Road and Eddy Creek Marina.

• Kentucky’s state parks near the paths of the tornadoes escaped major damage.

“All state parks in western Kentucky are operational at this time, “ said Danielle Jones, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Parks. “Many of the parks were briefly impacted by power outages and some of the parks had minor damage as a result of the storm. Staff is working to clear debris.”

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

Jones said seven state parks are acting as emergency shelters for local people who lost their homes in some of the hardest hit counties, including Lyon, Fulton, Graves, Marshall, Hopkins, Caldwell and Muhlenberg.

The seven parks acting as emergency shelters are Kentucky Dam Village, Kenlake, Lake Barkley, Pennyrile Forest, Rough River, Barren River Lake, and John James Audubon.

• A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said there was no damage to the Corps-operated facilities on the Louisville District lakes, which includes Barren River Lake, Buckhorn Lake, Carr Creek Lake, Cave Run Lake, Green River Lake, Nolin River Lake, Rough River Lake and Taylorsville Lake.

• Derek Beard, who works in the wildlife division for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), said the only damage to report was at a new wildlife management area in Hopkins County that has not officially opened. “Utility crews are on site. There was damage to powerlines running through the property,” he said.

KDFWR wildlife biologists lodged in the Super 8 Motel in Mayfield were just a 1/2 mile from the deadly path of the tornado through town, and escaped injury. “They were scheduled to work at the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) deer check stations in five Jackson Purchase counties, during the late muzzleloader season,” said Beard.

On December 11 KDFWR posted on its Twitter page that due to storm damage in western Kentucky, CWD check stations in Calloway, Marshall, Graves, Hickman and Fulton counties are closed until further notice.

Visit fw.ky.gov for the most up-to-date information.

• John Mura, a spokesman for the Kentucky Division of Forestry said there was no damage to Kentucky’s sate forests by the tornadoes. The division owns and manages 10 state forests — Big River, Green River, Pennyrile, Marrowbone, Kentucky Ridge, Kentenia, Tygarts, Rolleigh Peterson, Knobs and Marion County — with a combined total of 48,591 acres.

The assessment of damage from this historic tornado outbreak is ongoing, and it will take some time to learn the full extent of its impact on Kentucky’s fish, wildlife and timber resources, and related outdoor recreation facilities managed by state and federal agencies.

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