I left the comforts of air conditioning and traveled to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park last weekend. Truly a vacation destination if you haven’t been. I love pulling into Somerset from the west and seeing the small foothills of the east come out of nowhere. Then a little past the city begins the humongous Daniel Boone National Forest. So a trip south of Somerset past Burnside and to Cumberland Falls put me on the Sheltowee Trace for a short seven mile hike looking for the Dog Slaughter Falls. Yeah, you know about the big Cumberland Falls and perhaps the scenic Eagle Falls, but tucked back out of nowhere on Dog Slaughter Creek is tiny Dog Slaughter Falls. Call it a triple crown for the area if you’re big into waterfalls. Bu then, there’s a fourth if you count nearby Yahoo Falls in the Big South Fork National Recreation Area, well within a short drive.
The next day found me on the Cumberland itself, seated up front on a raft guided by Sheltowee Trace Outfitters. I took the long Cumberland Below the Falls trip which put us on several class three rapids and several swim breaks. An all day river trip. At one point as we paddled into a rapid called “Screaming Right Hand Turn,” the raft stood up at a 90 degree angle and all of the people in the boat plopped out into the water, except me and the guide. I was determined to stay in the raft! Truly a great ride if you haven’t been. Their website is www.ky-rafting.com. For more on Cumberland Falls, visit www.parks.ky.gov.
The Green River, at 317 miles, is the longest river in Kentucky and flows completely within the borders of the Commonwealth. It begins as a fast-moving stream and becomes a beautiful rock-bottom river. My buddy, Chip, and I began our trek across this vast expanse in Campbellsville, Kentucky at the spillway of Green River Lake.
From Campbellsville to the Green River Ferry in Mammoth Cave National Park (120 miles in all), the water is so clear that you’ll likely see both beavers swimming beneath your boat and long nose gars hanging on to a freshly caught blue gill. While the next 60 miles to Morgantown in Butler County is a little less scenic, the trek becomes more adventurous with 3 dams to navigate. Although the dams have not operated since barge traffic stopped in 1950, these dams are still in tack. Two of the dams, numbers 6 and 5 (Brownsville and Butler County) are extremely dangerous. Having a map of these dams’ locations is a must, because without it you could readily find yourself caught in the fast-moving current and wouldn’t survive the fall.
At these places you have to portage out and walk your boat around. Or you could do what we did and find someone with a pick-up truck, pay them $10.00 to load your boat, and take you to the closest boat ramp on the other end of the dam. There are always people fishing at these places.
Dam 4, also called Woodbury Dam, (Warren County) isn’t standing and is broken up to make a category IV rapid. If the river is low, and you were an experienced Kayaker, you might come through safely. But in a canoe or boat, you wouldn’t have a chance. Portage at Dam 4 is really easy; you just walk over a sand bar.
This July, 2010 our Western Kentucky section started at Morgantown to Calhoun (90 miles). Prior to of all our trips, Chip and I took a day to scout the Rochester Dam from the Ohio County side and researching the trip using maps. This dam isn’t standing, but becomes impassable with jagged rocks and boulders falling 10 feet. Also, because the Nolin and Barren Rivers empty into the Green River, it is much deeper and wider.
Before we got to Rochester, we were thrilled to see 3 bald eagles. With a map they can be seen between the area of Cromwell (Ohio County) and the Old Mining City in Butler County. You can’t miss the Old Mining City because you’ll see a 60-year old tug boat suspended on a high bank supported by trees and vines. It’s as if the captain left, expecting to return to another voyage.
The distance between Morgantown and the Rochester Dam is 18 miles by car, but it’s 36 miles when traveling by river. If you’re into bird watching, you’re bound to see several bald eagles, great blue heron, and king fishers. The local fishermen see them daily.
Once we got to Rochester we looked for someone to take us to the other side (Muhlenberg County), and we found Larry. Larry, the bait shop owner, lives in Skilesville. We paid Larry $10 to carry our boat 1/4 mile from Rochester to the other side of the dam into Skilesville, which is in Muhlenberg County. Larry not only gave us a ride to the other side, but also set up camp for us in a community park. It’s free, safe, and clean, and Larry had snacks and ice for sale. The next morning Larry showed us pictures of all the record catfish caught by the bait sold from his bait shop. Larry was not only a gracious host, but gave us the scoop on where the big ones could be caught. With our boat loaded on a trailer, Larry drove us down to the river, and we were off for day two.
The Green River flows in-between Muhlenberg and Ohio Counties. To get a visual of this area, you might be surprised to realize that the first mine in Kentucky became operational in Muhlenberg County in 1820. While most would have assumed it was in Eastern Kentucky, it was in Western Kentucky. Muhlenberg and Ohio Counties have been the largest coal producers in Western Kentucky, and at one time, Muhlenberg County produced more coal than anywhere in the world. To those who say “that must be ugly,” they’re so wrong. National regulations require coal mines to reclaim the land after the coal has been extracted from the surface. Those now reclaimed coal mines produce some of the best fishing and hunting in Western Kentucky. People come from all over the United States to hunt water fowl, deer and turkey. Coal companies, in conjunction with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, monitor hunting and fishing because the need is so great.
In this 35 mile stretch, you’ll see three power plants with huge steel pillars encased with concrete; these help steady barges for unloading coal. You’ll also see the same pillars on mine sites for loading coal. Even though barge traffic isn’t heavy, you must get out of their way long before they get close to your boat. The steel pillars are great for catching catfish, because the fish wait downstream letting the current bring food to them.
Along the way, we saw the public boat ramps at Central City and South Carrollton, as well as another bald eagle, countless geese, and herds of deer. We camped about a mile from the Western Kentucky Parkway Bridge. We were tired and fished out. With only 19 miles left, there will be more time to fish tomorrow.
Even though our last day was short, it was quite eventful. We floated toward the town of Livermore in McLean County where under the Hwy 431 Bridge, the Rough River empties into the Green. We entered the small river thinking we could land some large mouth bass. But instead we found ourselves getting bombarded with flying silver carp. I’m not kidding! There we sat in our 4 horse power Mercury with fish jumping every where. Before we knew it, a 20 pound silver carp had jumped into our boat. These carp will be a major nuisance to the Green in a couple of years!
With only 10 miles to our final destination (Calhoun), we sat back and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. As the land flattens, we begin see many homes, houseboats and pontoons docked along the river. Before reaching Dam number 2, we dock in Calhoun, the county seat of Mclean County, where there are restaurants and grocery stores.
Next year will be the final leg of completing the Green River. No where else except Kentucky, could this be experienced!!!
Known by locals as Mountain Drive, the Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park in Bell County is a great place to go and play in the mountains. I traveled down to Bell County on Monday, August 9, 2010 with Adventure Tourism Director Elaine Wilson. In case you haven’t been outside in the past week, or been out of the country, it was HOT that day all over the bluegrass. We didn’t let that deter us though and we met up with Bell County’s Adventure Tourism Director, Jon Grace. Jon was an excellent host and tour guide as he took us to the Pinnacle Overlook atop Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. The view from this spot is worth an entire blog itself, but I will move onto the main attraction.
Once we got to the Off-Road Park we were soon surrounded by members of the local off-road club, The Holler Crawlers (whose slogan I conveniently borrowed as the title for this blog- hope you guys don’t mind!). The Holler Crawlers were a great group of people that ranged in age from high school to a number of retired folks. They all share a passion for riding and the club takes care of clean-up and maintenance on the trail. They also host several rides each year whose proceeds go to benefit a number of different charities. I realize I’ve sidetracked again, but I felt the club should get its fair share of credit.
The Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park covers 9,000 acres and provides access to over 100 miles of trails. Most of the trails are suited for any skill level of rider with gravel surfaces and gentle grades. There are also some more challenging, and even some expert sections of trail, that should probably not be attempted by beginner riders. The famed Mud Bowl is, well, a large pit/crater that fills with mud and attracts those who want to get really dirty. On the day we were there the Mud Bowl was at least a few feet deep . . . sadly there were no takers. Don’t forget to bring your fishing poles and fishing license with when you visit because there are plenty of ponds that are well stocked with different species of fish. The Cumberland River and Yellow Creek border the park and anglers can access them from the park as well. With so much to do and see I would have to recommend that people camp at the park when they go visit, which is allowed throughout the park.
Being from Pike County I have seen my fair share of great mountain-top views. That said, the scenes from Bell County were absolutely breathtaking. In fact, you can see the path that Daniel Boone carved when ventured into Kentucky via the Cumberland Gap.
When it comes to ATV riding in eastern Kentucky, many people want to focus only on Harlan or Knott Counties. That is more than understandable due to the hundreds of miles of great ATV/OHV trails in those counties. However, it would be foolish I feel to not go and check out what Bell County, as well as other parts of eastern Kentucky, has to offer. I can guarantee you’ll find good riding, good conversation, and plenty of hospitality if you decide to visit Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park. Check out the pictures Elaine snapped from the trip! Last but not least, be sure to wear your helmet when riding!
Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park
THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF TRAVEL
Capital Plaza Tower 22nd Floor, 500 Mero Street, Frankfort, KY 40601