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John Tierney speaks on behalf of the Friends of Carter Caves during a visit to Carter Caves State Park by representatives of the state park system.

Longtime Carter Caves naturalist, and friend of the park and community, John Prichard Tierney has passed away at the age of 73. Tierney “entered into rest,” as his obituary reads, on the evening of January 11, at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead.

Tierney had a huge impact on the development of Carter Caves State Park as a naturalist there through much of his career, and following retirement as an active member of the Friends of Carter Caves group. His legacy will forever be intertwined with that of the park. For instance, the restaurant at the lodge, Tierney's Cavern, was named in his honor, and many credit him with helping make Carter Caves the park it is today.

“Carter Caves is what it is because of him, because of his vision,” said park manager Chris Perry. “His love for the park is unmatched by anyone, and we were very fortunate to have him. Anywhere you go in the park, you see where John Tierney left his mark, and the memories people have shared since his passing is only a testament to what he meant to our visitors and employees he worked with. He was indeed a special man, one that sets our area apart from other areas. I was not only proud to call him a colleague but a friend as well.”

Tierney's services will be held at First Christian Church, in Olive Hill, where he was an active member of the congregation. A Celebration of Life Visitation will be held January 17, from 6 to 9 p.m., with services on January 18 at 4 p.m.

Tierney, who was affectionately known as “Old Geezer,” was born in Boyd County on October 15, 1946, the son of Francis J. “Bud” Tierney and Mary Belle Prichard Tierney. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Lelana Graves Tierney, and two sons; Paul Jason Tierney, and wife Jennifer, of Olive Hill, and John Graves Tierney, and wife Susan, of Georgetown, KY.

The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be directed to First Christian Church, or to the Friends of Carter Caves. Donations to First Christian Church can be sent to PO Box 538, Olive Hill, Kentucky 41164. Donations to Friends of Carter Caves can be sent to 344 Caveland Drive, Olive Hill, Kentucky 41164.

(Writer's Note: As I was scrolling through the photos to find a shot I took of John at an event last fall, I came to the end of those photos, and the very next shot as I clicked through was a zoomed photo of a group of wild turkeys. As I continued to click through, I found shot after shot of the splendor of Carter County in those early autumn months, when the trees were still thick with color and the fields full of folks cutting hay – and the thinning foliage meant the rock formations of the county were easier to see, especially around Carter Caves. I didn't know John Tierney personally. We had met, but I really only knew him through his work with the Friends of Carter Caves, and through his reputation at the park and in the community. But it still seemed appropriate to me that those images should immediately follow John's. It's obvious from what I did know of John that we shared the same love of eastern Kentucky's unique wild places, if not the same level of passion – John's was known to be unmatched – and to their preservation for the enjoyment of future generations. His achievements stand as legacy of that mission, and we owe it to him to continue the work he began, build up Carter County, and celebrate the unique beauty it offers.)

Contact the writer at jwells@journal-times.com.

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