Parker Dam State Park Tornado

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Parker Dam 1985 tornado 1 _-4989645594464664357

A date to remember here in Central PA is May 31st, 1985. Pennsylvania was hit with its worst tornado outbreak.  

Matt Riddle says this about a cabin in Parker Dam State Park, “In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corp. built this octagonal cabin behind me. But on May 31, 1985 it did serve as a storm shelter for a local boy scout troop as an F4 tornado roared through the area.  

The violent tornado ripped through the northern portion of the park at just before 8 at night. This part of the park is mostly forest and thousands of trees snapped.  

Carey Huber, an Environmental Education Specialist at Parker Dam had this to say, “You know a mature forest, everything was snapped off. You looked down upon it and it looked like matchsticks or toothpicks laying in different directions all over the place.” 

As the twister roared through, one cabin was in its crosshairs. A cabin occupied by a scout troop that was about to be put through the most terrifying moments of their lives. 

Here is what Ken Hunt, a former Boy Scout, had to say in 1995, “It sounded like a bunch of freight trains coming at you. It was so loud you couldn’t hear anything at all.”  

He was right in the tornadoes path. 

“Was it scary yes it was scary,” said Ken. 

Carey Huber says, “The cabin was damaged. It basically… the cabin is an 8-sided octagonal cabin, built out of logs like the ccc did. It was pretty strong we theorize, which helped not completely destroy the cabin, but it did have a cupola on the top. So, part of that got blown off. Some other damage to the cabin that way, but it wasn’t completely flattened or anything like that.  

Mud run road bisects the park north to south and the east side of the road was salvage cut for the timber that was there, but the west side of the road was untouched to see what nature would do after this event. Now 33 year later both sides of the road look similar, but there are some small differences. 

“What you see now is maybe a few big old rotting logs that might still be there. A lot of mounds of dirt where the root balls were tore up and the roots have rotted away and the dirt is now just a mound on the ground. And some evidence of some of the species in that part of the park forest is changing from early successional species to a more mature species of trees in that section in that part of the forest. So, it is not as thick as it once was.” States Carey. 

The tornado also destroyed an important piece of local history. This used to be the trail of giants in the park. A walking path where folks could go to learn about trees over a century old. Now the trees are gone, the history was lost, but a new tradition has emerged. You can walk the Trail of New giants. 

Carey on this trail “So, as it got renamed the Trail of New Giants, as those trees mature and become giants. People can kinda watch as the forest grows up if they hike it year after year.  

If you would like to visit a piece of this area’s history the trail of new giants is open at parker dam state park now. 

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