WELLINGTON — Back in late winter, many people in Menifee County were preparing for the 25th annual Mountain Memories Festival. They were celebrating a grant from the Brushy Fork Institute that allowed them to fund a tour of local artisans and farmers during the festival and enjoying improvements to Broke Leg Falls, a natural area that was a popular place to hike and picnic.
But then March 2 changed the plan, and most people in Menifee County won’t forget the EF-3 twister that ripped through part of the county, and then stayed on the ground for more than 80 miles, destroying everything in its path. The storm left many homeless, injured and in shock. Courtney Jenkins, lifelong resident of Morgan County, knew she had to push emotion aside for a time and help those affected.
Jenkins is the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources and 4-H in Menifee County. She and her colleagues acted quickly to meet people’s basic needs immediately after the storm.
“We worked hard trying to help everyone get their things back in order,” Jenkins said. “At the time, it wasn’t about emotions, it was about helping people.”
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lola Thomas started out the day after the twister helping at a school and didn’t think much about Broke Leg Falls until someone asked her if she’d seen it.
“They told me it was really bad,” she said. “So we drove up here the following Sunday afternoon and I just cried; I couldn’t hold my emotions.”
Broke Leg Falls sustained severe damage, hundreds of trees leveled, trails and bridges destroyed and recently improved areas decimated. Oddly though, the storm revealed prominent cliff lines formerly hidden by thick vegetation — a site that Thomas now believes is a “rock climber’s dream.”
“The area is one of my passions,” she said. “I still get emotional, but we will rebuild.”
As the Mountain Memories Festival began June 1, rain and clouds hovered over the area before the sun began to find its way into the Frenchburg streets. It’s a little synonymous with the way the tornado brought darkness to the area, but the light is beginning to shine again.
“Having the festival so quickly after the tornado really shows the resolve of this community,” Jenkins said. “People are still coming together; working together to do things the county has done in the past, to provide a sense of normalcy — even if it is a new normal.”
She also believes that because of this disaster, Extension is better equipped to deal with any disaster in the future.
“There have been extension agents from across the state come to help and volunteers from surrounding counties that worked for days on end,” she said.
She added that there is a bright future for the area. “Though there were a lot of things we had hoped would remain the same, they will be different now,” she said. “I’m sure this community will continue coming together to make sure people have what they need.”
Jenkins said the community still needs fencing supplies, gates, heavy equipment operators and anyone with construction experience. Those needs will exist for quite some time, but she’s confident people will step up, just as they have been doing.