Kentucky State Parks Turns From Vacation Spots To Busy Shelters For Tornado Victims

Many tornado victims in western and southern Kentucky will not be home for the holidays. In fact, Christmas will be very different this year.

This month’s storms have left many homeless in Bowing Green, Dawson Springs, Mayfield and other affected areas. Many of those who lost their homes will be spending the vacations in state parks after Gov. Andy Beshear turned some of them into free emergency housing for tornado victims.

As the sun set over the hills of Dawson Springs on Tuesday, the lodge at Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park filled up for dinner. A place of rest and recreation is now in survival mode.

“Everything was a bit chaotic, but it was a good chaos,” said park director Melissa Voges.

Voges pointed to the more Walmart-like dining room filled with donated food, toys, clothing, diapers and hygiene items.

“These donations, they started arriving the day after the storm, and they are coming in from all over the United States,” Voges explained. “Anything that anyone could possibly need, they can get it here.”

The park currently has 124 guests, all residents of Dawson Springs displaced by this month’s tornadoes.

“We have 24 rooms and 13 cottages. They are all fully booked,” said Voges. “Then we have people at our campsite who volunteer, who stay at the campsite in their personal motorhome. “

Taffany Lowery is staying at Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park with her boyfriend and parents. His house on Hall Street was completely destroyed.

“We just had our home in November, so it’s still a shock,” Lowery told WKU public radio.

On top of that, she is eight months pregnant.

“I was able to collect most of my baby stuff,” she said. “There are sentimental things that I can never get back, but it’s okay because my family and I are fine.”

State parks were providing housing and food services to 600 displaced Kentuckians and 169 first responders on Wednesday.

In Dawson Springs, the storm devastated much of the city’s public housing, where Chris Knight lived. He is disabled but managed to hide between his washer and dryer and weathered the tornado. He was in the dining room where the barbecue was buffet on Tuesday night. Without the park, Knights said he didn’t know where he would stay.

“It’s a blessing,” Knight commented. “I have lots of friends, but they too are homeless.”

Marlene Kimmel, 65, finished eating, grabbed her cane and walked over to the room where she and her husband are staying. The couple lost their home on Keigan Street. They rode the storm down the hall.

“When it hit, it looked like a train. Then the roof starts to tear. You hear all the wood cracking and cracking, and then it’s gone,” Kimmel explained. “When the roof came off, all the drywall from the ceilings fell all around us. We started to pray, “Lord, lay your hand on us,” and he did. “

The couple were rescued from the rubble by a police officer. The Kimmels were in a new home, and it was meant to be their forever home. They plan to rebuild on the same corner lot.

Amy Bardin works as a waiter at the lodge. While she usually takes care of others, she is now the one who receives. She, too, lives in government housing that was destroyed by the tornadoes. She took refuge in the hallway of her house in Clarkdale Court, with her 22-year-old son.

“He behaved very well. Myself, not so well, ”Bardin said. “I was on the phone with my mom and told her I think I’m going to die tonight. It was very traumatic. “

Bardin now not only works at the Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, but he also lives there. Tornado survivors like her are guaranteed a one-month stay. After that, she will move to an apartment in Hopkinsville. Bardin says she ultimately wants to return to Dawson Springs and rebuild where her home once stood. She took pictures out on her cell phone.

“This is my son’s room. It’s completely covered in drywall and insulation. Looks like a tornado has hit it, doesn’t it? This is the living room. Christmas presents, some of them were destroyed, ”Bardin said. “I’m more thankful for Christmas now than I’ve ever been in my life because I made it out alive.”

Amanda Fowler also works at the park as a dining room supervisor. Her trailer on Highway 109 in Dawson Springs was undamaged, but she stays here anyway because at the moment everyone is on the bridge.

“We’re feeding a lot of people right now,” Fowler said. “It’s good to see people come in and smile, fill their bellies and go back to a place where they can stay warm at night.”

Fowler’s six-year-old son Jackson runs into the dining room, seemingly indifferent to the recent upheaval. For him, staying at the lodge is more like a vacation. In fact, he just saw Santa Claus.

“What did you tell her you wanted for Christmas,” I asked? “Toys,” he exclaimed! “A PS5 and a new WWE wrestler.”

Communities like Dawson Springs are showing resilience this Christmas in a season of heartbreak, gratitude, and little moments of joy.

Kentucky is home to 45 state parks, including 17 resort parks. The Commonwealth uses 7 resort parks to house displaced families.

Here’s a breakdown of the state parks that are home to tornado victims and the number of vacant rooms Wednesday, according to the Kentucky Department of Parks.

Kentucky Dam Village

  • Park currently housing 137 displaced Kentuckians and 143 first responders

Kenlake State Park

  • 10 rooms available
  • Park currently housing 141 displaced Kentuckians and 8 first responders.

Barkley Lake State Resort

  • 9 rooms available
  • Park currently housing 164 displaced Kentuckians and 16 first responders.

Barren River Lake State Resort Park

  • 46 rooms available
  • Park currently housing 30 displaced Kentuckians.

John James Audubon State Park

  • 3 bedrooms available
  • Park currently housing 0 displaced Kentuckians.

Pennyrile Forest Resort National Park

  • No rooms available
  • Park currently housing 124 displaced Kentuckians.

Rough River Dam State Resort Park

  • 50 rooms available
  • Park currently housing 4 displaced Kentuckians.
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