In 1974, a tornado outbreak devastated communities across 13 states, with more than 100 tornadoes in a 24 hour period. In Louisville, Kentucky, there was a loss that could never be fully replaced – 80% of the mature tree canopy in Cherokee Park, a flagship park of the city’s Olmsted Park System. 

People were immediately astonished by the visual of Cherokee Park with trees laid to waste like piles of kindling. Little did they know that an aftershock would come – not another weather event, but an ecological one that keeps Olmsted Parks Conservancy busy to this day.  

The Journal of the Development of Cherokee Park, 1974 included in its outlined restoration plan: “Remove smothering honeysuckle vines in areas where trees once shaded, before seedlings and new, young trees can hope to establish their claim on the land.” 

While bush honeysuckle had previously been planted along the interstate and in formal beds in the park, it was phased out when its invasive properties became known. The tornado, however, spread the plant throughout the Cherokee Park site while simultaneously destroying trees and opening the forest floor to all the sunlight the honeysuckle needed to thrive.  

It was the perfect storm after the storm. 

Olmsted Parks Conservancy started as a group of concerned citizens— “Friends of Olmsted Parks” and was formalized by Mayor Abramson to restore Cherokee Park and the Louisville’s other Olmsted Parks. The Team for Healthy Parks was specifically created to promote biodiversity and they continue to mitigate honeysuckle and other invasive species while promoting a healthy tree canopy, 50 years after the tornado! Still, we see the difference between the few massive tornado survivor trees and the surrounding forest of younger, smaller trees – a reminder of what was lost.  

April 3, 2024 was a time for remembrance in Louisville. The National Weather Service Louisville held a commemorative program at Metro Hall’s Mayor’s Gallery on including meteorologist John Gordon, Mayor Craig Greenberg, 1974 Louisville Mayor Harvey Sloan, tornado surveyor Dr. Greg Forbes and tornado historian Jennifer Narramore.  

Mayor Sloan spoke of the devastation of Cherokee Park and reminded us how fortunate we are to have the park today. We are proud to continue the work to restore, enhance and protect Cherokee Park and the entire Olmsted Park System.