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McCormick’s Creek State Park Tornado

McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana’s oldest state park, was directly and seriously impacted by an EF-3 tornado late Friday, March 31, 2023. After an initial week-long closure for evaluation, the campground and some trails remain closed, but Canyon Inn, the nature center, most cabins, and some trails are OPEN, and guests are welcome in the park.

The physical structures and natural resources of parts of McCormick’s Creek are forever changed. Guests and staff will remember how the campground, nature preserves, and trails looked before the storm, and treasure our memories of experiences there. Nature is resilient. So are we . We look to the future to embrace and watch the changes – both natural and physical – as they happen.

Important

You are STRICTLY PROHIBITED from walking or driving into areas where barricades and/or “closed” signs are in place. These barriers and signs are in place for your safety.

FAQs

  • How much of the park was impacted?

    Approximately 282 acres of the 1,961-acre park were seriously impacted. The actual path of the tornado was approximately 400 yards wide at its widest, or about the width of 4 football fields.

    The tornado followed a path from the southwestern boundary of the park near the White River to the northeast through the edge of McCormick’s Cove Nature Preserve, directly through the campground, and across the center of Wolf Cave Nature Preserve.

    It is estimated that the actual time it took for the tornado to pass through was 30 – 40 seconds. With wind speeds near 150 miles per hour, thousands of trees were uprooted or knocked down, and many more were damaged beyond the point of recovery. More than 90% of the sites in Loop B and Loop A of the campground sustained irreparable damage. All three shower houses received extensive damage to their roofs, walls, and foundations and must be demolished and replaced. The primitive campground and Beech Grove Shelter received little to no damage.

    Significant Storm and Tornado Canopy Disturbance Area, March 31, 2023

    Map of tornado damage

  • What facilities are OPEN for public use?
    • Canyon Inn is OPEN for dining and overnight lodging.
    • The saddle barn is open on its regular schedule and trail rides are available.
    • The nature center is open with normal hours.
    • Public programs are offered daily and school/group programs can  be scheduled. Ask for a calendar of events at the nature center or gate or view programs online.
    • The public pool opens Memorial Day Weekend and closes mid-August. Summer hours are Sun-Thurs 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
    • Family cabins are open. Repairs are in progress to the four that were damaged. Reserve cabins at camp.IN.gov.
    • All recreation buildings are open except Friendly Recreation Building.
    • Group Camps are open. Nawakwa is open at full capacity. Two barracks at Camp McCormick are limited to 50% capacity (25 guests per barrack.)
    • All shelters are open and rentable except Beech Grove.
    • The park currently has 3.6 miles of trails open. Changes will be posted on the park’s webpage as they occur.
      • Fully Open Trails:
        • Trail 1 - McCormick’s Cove Nature Preserve
        • Trail 4 - Fire Tower
        • Trail 9 - Deer Run, Peden Farmstead
      • Partially Open Trails:
        • Trail 3 –The McCormick’s Creek waterfall is accessible from the falls parking area and the trail from Canyon Inn to the waterfall is open.  The wooden trail structure is damaged.  Please do not go past closure signs.
        • Trail 8 - A portion of this trail from the pool/nature center area is open. It is closed beyond Pine Bluff shelter where it leads to the campground and Trail 5 to Wolf Cave. Trail 5 and Wolf Cave are closed.
  • When will the campgrounds reopen?

    DNR looks forward to welcoming campers back to McCormick’s Creek. However, right now there is no specific timeline for reopening. The campground will remain closed until cleanup and reconstruction are complete, and we are able to welcome campers back safely.

  • Why can’t we just walk into the campground to see the damage ourselves?

    Although most of the campground roads have been cleared, there are still many damaged trees in dangerous positions with the potential to fall. You can view video and photos of the campground’s sustained damage on this page. Park staff in the Nature Center are also available to answer your questions.

  • How are the nature preserves?

    McCormick’s Cove Nature Preserve and Wolf Cave Nature Preserve were both impacted. Wolf Cave Nature Preserve is one of the finest examples of mesic hardwood forest in central Indiana. The tornado cut across its center and in that path at least 90% of all trees are down. In some locations downed trees are stacked six to eight feet high across the preserve. There are no plans to remove these trees. Natural disturbance is a part of the landscape, and research plots have been established to evaluate the impact of the change in sunlight and weather conditions on wildlife, plant species, and invasives in these locations. Wolf Cave is undamaged, so it will open once trail access is restored.

  • What are the impacts on wildlife?

    Birds and mammals in the direct path of the storm experienced the storm’s incredible force. For example, several turkey vultures were roosting and unable to take off before the tornado hit. On the other hand, natural disturbances create forest openings, which are important in supporting wildlife diversity. Successional species such as the blue-winged warbler, Carolina wren, American woodcock, whippoorwill, common yellowthroat, and prairie warbler may benefit from this disturbance. The reduced canopy will also permit sun-loving herbaceous plants to flourish, along with an increase in the presence of invertebrate decomposers such as beetles. We look forward to witnessing the natural changes in species composition in the coming months and years.

  • What are the next steps for recovery?

    A team of experts in forest management, park operations, design, and communications has been assembled to manage this process. The first step is to remove the damaged trees from the campground and surrounding area. As the campground area is cleared, we will assess roads and water, electric, and sewer lines. Any damage in those areas will need to be repaired. Planning for new comfort stations is also already underway. The damaged group camps and cabins are already in the pipeline for repairs. DNR staff are continuing to assess the best ways to manage reopening closed trails. In some cases, this might involve cutting the existing trail open; in others it might mean rerouting sections of trail.

  • What will happen with all the trees and debris that are damaged and down?

    Thousands of trees were damaged – many more than DNR staff alone can remove quickly and safely. This amount of damage requires a salvage harvest, which is the removal of downed, damaged, and hazardous timber via a sale to a private contractor. This harvest will be based on a resource management guide developed for the site. We will also need to address the massive quantity of treetops and limbs that will be on the ground, along with the uprooted tree root masses.

    We have already removed a number of trees that will be used for other DNR projects. For example, 220 tulip trees were removed to be dried, milled and used in repairing the flume that carries water to the gristmill wheel in the Pioneer Village at Spring Mill State Park.

  • How will this salvage harvest work?

    The resource management guide noted above was posted for public comment for 30 days on DNR Division of Forestry’s webpage. No comments were received. Bid documents and requirements are now posted online for tree removal from the campground. Timber buyers can access the bidding portal at https://timbersalebidding.dnr.in.gov/. Bids are due by 11:59 p.m. on October 19, 2023.

  • What will happen to any funds generated by the salvage harvest?

    Any funds generated by this work will be dedicated to restoration of the campground and the park’s natural resources.

  • Will there be improvements made to the campgrounds?

    We are already looking at how portions of the campground might be altered or redesigned to accommodate changes in camping preferences of our guests for the future.

  • Will the DNR be planting trees to replace the trees destroyed?

    DNR will most likely plant new native hardwood trees in the campground that will, in time, provide shade. How many will be determined by the amount of regrowth we see from the existing seed bank in campground soil.

  • How is DNR paying for the campground restoration?

    The Indiana General Assembly and Governor Holcomb included $5 million in the state’s biennial budget to continue the work on the campground. Additional funding will come from the Division of State Park’s operational budget, from any revenue generated by the salvage harvest, and from donations to the project by individuals and organizations.

  • How long will it take for the campground to look like it did before the storm?

    The current campground was built in the late 1960s. Campers may see some updates that will provide an improved experience. However, the regrowth of trees is a long process that we will continue to follow for decades. This regrowth is in progress at a number of DNR properties with campgrounds located on reclaimed agricultural lands. For example, the amount of shade at Prophetstown and Potato Creek state park campgrounds increases each year.

  • Were any of the park’s memorial benches damaged?

    Many of the memorial benches that were along now-damaged trails have been impacted, but we have not completed an assessment yet due to the downed trees. When we have more information regarding these benches and any process for replacement, we will be in touch with donors.

  • How can I keep up with the recovery process?

    Follow McCormick’s Creek State Park’s Facebook page for regular posts about progress or visit this page.

  • Has something like this happened before at McCormick’s Creek or other DNR properties?

    Yes, although the scale of storm impact has varied. A portion of the park was impacted by straight-line winds in 2003. Drought, emerald ash borers, and scale insects resulted in a small salvage sale in the park in 2017. The emerald ash borer has decimated ash trees planted for shade in most of our campgrounds. Clark State Forest was significantly impacted by the 2012 tornado that hit the town of Henryville. In 1974, Clifty Inn was destroyed by a tornado and was rebuilt.

  • How can I help?

    We are grateful for the many individuals and organizations offering assistance. We will reach out when we have opportunities for you to help. In the meantime, make sure we have your contact information by completing the volunteer form linked below, and watch web and social media for updates. If you would like to donate, your financial gifts can go to the Friends of McCormick’s Creek or to the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation.

We also ask that you continue to support ALL of Indiana’s state park properties with your enthusiastic presence. More than 90% of our day-to-day operations are funded by the fees you pay when you visit. We are here to conserve, manage, and interpret our resources, while creating memorable experiences for everyone, and we will continue to do that across Indiana with your support and assistance!

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