Chickasaw Park received $5 million in investments. Then a tornado hit the West End.

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There was a silent victim of the EF-1 tornado that hit the West End July 4 — a victim that has been a treasured part of western Louisville since 1923.

If this victim could talk, it would tell of cook-outs, family reunions, tennis tournaments and pickup games. It would tell of recent improvements that make it a shining example of what can happen when a city invests in its green spaces.

Frederick Law Olmsted designed Chickasaw Park specifically for the Black community during segregation and it suffered considerable damage when a tornado tore through western Louisville. So much so that the historic park had to be temporarily closed so crews could assess the damage and start clean up. There was no power, downed trees and damage to the lodge.

The wreckage is particularly disappointing because of all the recent work that has gone into park improvements.

Chickasaw park has received $5 million worth of investments across seven different projects with multiple agencies involved, according to Olmsted Park Conservancy. From updated lighting and walking paths to a new pollinator garden, repaved parking lots and pond restoration, this historic park should be having its day in the sun.

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However, on Monday afternoon chainsaws buzzed, cutting through downed trees while representatives from the mayor’s office set up for a previously planned press conference unrelated to the storm damage. It was to celebrate the opening of the new Sankofa Sanctuary at Chickasaw Park, an outdoor natural play space in partnership with Play Cousins Collective. The play space includes an overlook with a gorgeous view of the Ohio River.

What the tornado damaged at Chickasaw Park

But just across the parking lot from the play space there’s a 100-year oak tree uprooted and smashed onto the roof of the park lodge. An equally impressive Ash tree in front of the lodge is split clean open and cannot be saved. Old growth trees do so much environmental work for our urban heat island and the shade they bring takes a newly planted tree decades to replace. The ash tree in particular had already managed to survive the threat of the emerald ash borer, an invasive pest that has killed millions of ash trees in Kentucky. Ash trees aren’t planted by the city any longer because of this threat, so this tree is just gone.

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Ash Tree in front of the lodge at Chickasaw Park on Monday, July 8, 2024. An EF1 tornado hit western Louisville on Thursday, July 4, 2024.

It’s yet to be determined if the big maple tree in the center of the pond will make it. A large limb was torn off and lies stretched across the water. The pond is part of a $2.5 million project funded by the American Rescue Plan to restore the pond and improve stormwater infrastructure. Jason Canuel with Metro Parks says it will take getting a person in a kayak out there to assess the damage and determine its fate. But other work must be done first.

Priority was given to trees blocking the road through the park and regaining full access. The park has been without power and closed since Thursday’s storm hit. West Louisville Tennis Club President Aretha Fuqua told me on the phone she is hopeful they’ll have power restored and the tennis courts cleaned up and ready by the time their tournament starts Friday. The Louisville Urban Forestry crew started Friday morning after the storm and worked through the weekend, but there’s still a lot left to clean up.

The silver lining in all of this is that there were plans already in place to restore the park lodge, which bore the brunt of the storm’s damage. Olmsted Parks Conservancy had committed $250,000 to the project. Former Mayor Greg Fisher and Metro Council matched that commitment with another $250,000, and Mayor Craig Greenberg recently committed $150,000. “The good news,” Olmsted Parks Conservancy executive director Layla George said of the lodge project, “is that we now have a new partner, which is the insurance company.”

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is the community engagement and opinion editor for The Louisville Courier Journal. She can be reached via email at

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville tornado hit West End’s Chickasaw Park. Can it be saved?