The quest for coal in the Appalachian Mountains has employed generations of miners for nearly a century. Some mining operations were enormous and employed thousands of workers. The colorful story of coal in Kentucky is filled with triumph and tragedy. Now, a new coal tour adventure will enable you to explore and examine the very locales that made the news back “when coal was king.”
The makings of a great adventure tour have been in place for years – Portal 31, the Kentucky Coal Museum, the top of Black Mountain, and Kingdom Come State Park, each within a virtual stone’s throw of the other. Indeed, the Cumberland-Benham-Lynch trio of mountain coal towns has a rich and proud past. So, organizing the area attractions in the vicinity into a one-trip-does-all guided tour just seemed like a good idea.
Pine Mountain State Resort Park will offer it’s next adventure excursion through coal country in November 2012. Plans are to visit the history-steeped Kentucky Coal Museum, climb aboard a rail car for a tour of the Portal 31 Underground Exhibition Mine, and ascend the 4,139-foot Black Mountain Summit – the highest natural point in Kentucky. Tour participants will also enjoy awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains and valleys of coal country from the lofty overlooks of Kingdom Come State Park.
The park’s next scheduled tour is November 3, 2012. Advanced registration is required and the departure time from the park is 8:00 AM for both trips. Van transportation will be provided to the first 10 persons and they recommend you bring a light jacket for the underground tour. Lunch at an endearing little eatery, Charlotte’s Hoagie Shop, is an additional out-of-pocket expense, but the menu is surprisingly extensive and the food is simply terrific. Total field trip time is expected to be around 8.5 hours. Anyone can participate in the tour and return to sleep in their own bed that night, but overnight accommodations are available at the park’s Herndon J. Evans lodge and reservations can be made separately.
It’s not everyday that you can climb aboard an old rail car, pass beneath a mountain, and trundle straight into the storied past, but what awaits adventurers here is really a trip back in time. It’s a golden opportunity to consider, up close and personal, the legacy of coal in southern Appalachia. By all acounts, it would seem that Pine Mountain State Resort Park has lined up a real crowd-pleaser with this new adventure tour.
For more information or to register for the Legacy of Coal Underground Mine Tour, contact the park’s Guest Services Desk at (800) 325-1712.
Obvious that we had at least been successful in the woods that particular morning. Squirrel hunting had been an August pastime for as long as I can remember. Longer than I was able to even carry a gun into the woods. I can recall one such humid morning in the mid 80s when I was five or six. Dad and I had pulled up in my Grandaddy’s yard in Hickman and proceeded with the preparations. Honey Buns, check. Mountain Dews, check. Skeeter Dope, check. The spray down of the dope is a memory of the senses. The hiss of the spray and smell of the repellant as it fell sticky on the face. The weird taste as some of it went in my mouth. The buzz of a mosquito wanting to indulge but repelled by the very substance I was now covered in. A heck of a tradeoff.
Matching camo outfits complete down to the boots, we headed off into the thick green late summer’s growth of the woods. Dew sticking to our pants legs along side cacaburs and enough pollen to turn the green fabric yellow. Spider webs every three feet or so, the disgruntled spider now crawling around on one of us, much to my dismay. We would head back, half silently, to trees Dad had hunted for years, still producing the same oak and hickory and pecan treats they had for decades of squirrels. I say half silently because I always managed to step on every stick God had lain in the woods. Apparently there was a trick to this sort of walk, one that was opposite of how I had learned just four years earlier. Back then, it was “heel first, toe last.” But hunters walk was “toe first, heel last.” Right. No matter what part of the foot I used, a loud “crack” would send wiggly tails hopping branches high above us into the holes of the trees and a look from the hunter in front of me.
Eventually, we’d settle in underneath a big tree where a few squirrels were having a field day with the bounty. You could hear them cutting on the nuts and see them jump branch to branch. After they would get the good out of the it, they would hurl the shell down to the ground, knocking leaves and braches and just making a bunch of noise on the way down, a loud “thump” as it hit the ground (or one of us!). Somehow I wondered why the animals would run at my little twig breaking, but not at World War III going on here.After a minute or two of watching this nonsense, it was time for Dad to slip around to the base of the tree for a shot. I followed in tow. Gun up. Aim. “Boom.” Smoke and a larger fall as the squirrel fell from the limb above. A thud as it hit the ground. I got excited and screamed for joy at this wonderful event! I think it shocked everybody. The little squirrel’s beady eyes got as big as marbles and he ran off into a hole in the ground next to us! At least I hadn’t scared him to death, I guess. Dad jerked his head at me. “Why’d you do that?” I was still thinking about the eyes of that thing. Dad was undeterred, and went off after this sandwich worth of meat, sticking his arm elbow deep in the hole. After about ten seconds, the efforts were fruitless (meatless) as no squirrel was found. No more screaming in the forest, check.
We probably got our limit that day, and have gotten our limit since, Dad still making the yearly trip into the woods and me going with him when I get the chance. But nothing replaces those early moments in the woods, the memories, and God help, the taste of squirrels.
-Originally published in The Hickman Courier, August 9, 2012.
Come check out Adventure Tourism at the 2012 Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, Kentucky. We are located in the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center. There is plenty to see and do at the fair this year. You can find us with Kentucky State Parks. See you there!
The color of a bridge at Ashland that takes one eastbound over the river into Ohio.
The color of a different bridge that brings one from Ohio westbound back into the Bluegrass.
The color of coal, critical to the eastern Kentucky economy.
The color of signage leading to Greenbo Lake State Park.
The color of my face after a couple hours on the water.
From Ashland and west on Interstate 64, a pull off at Grayson and up a curvy secluded road labeled highway one. A road wrought with covered bridges in places along side roads leading to Greenbo Lake State Resort Park. Jesse Stuart’s stomping grounds. I had included this park on the tour last year, and hiked the Tygart Trail when the weather was a little nicer. This day, the air had retained its hardheadedness with temperature readings near 100. No hiking today.
Instead, mom and I plopped down in a canoe and paddled about on the lake for a couple hours, admiring the view of the surrounding hillsides, deer grazing on the shore, and several blue heron keeping post for a possible fish dinner.All week long I had been keeping Kentucky and the nation informed on radio station WHAS out of Louisville via the Terry Miners Show. On this day he would interview me from the canoe.
Me: “It’s hot out here! I don’t even know why I do this stuff. I need to wait till October…”
Terry: “Ah, but don’t you just like being under the canopy of the trees and one with nature and all the beauty?”
Me: “Yeah, that sounds good on a Hallmark Card. Till you get out here in this heat!”
But all in good fun. I’m an Outdoorsman rain or shine. Just wish it would rain more.
Greenbo has some big plans up their sleeves that include an eventual zip line course linked by canopy walk in the trees, and scuba diving in the lake. Combine that with the fishing, boating, and hiking offered here already, and you can see why it has gotten a visit in two straight years of the tour. A great way to end what has been a busy week on the road and in the parks.
A tally of the whole thing in a day or two once I return to Bowling Green. Till then…
It would be a short drive to make up for the longer one of two days ago that took us from Pineville to the edge of Virginia. This time, we’d see a “Welcome to Kentucky” sign as we rounded a two lane road back into Pike County and a tree-lined Elkhorn City. After a few curves on highway 80 north, we would link up with fabled US 23, the Country Music Highway, busiest in this part of the state. Six lanes in places! Think of it as an interstate with stop lights. But a welcome sight after spending so long on the narrow roads of the past couple days.This route would take us first to Pikeville and a look downtown there. Here’s a small city of just over 6000 that’s known as well as Lexington or Louisville when Kentucky is mentioned in polite company. It’s the very definition of beautification. Brick crosswalks. Antique looking lampposts and street signs. Flowers hung abundantly at every corner. Flags unfurled all about. Pikeville has accomplished the idea of what Americana should look like, and is showing it off in style.
We spent some time walking the downtown and visiting the gravesites of the McCoy family of the famed Hatfield and McCoy feud. Another feature we partook from an overlook high above was the Cut-Through, an engineering marvel that moved a mountain and a river to allow for expansion and flood control. City saved, city admired.
Wanting to move from Bowling Green to Pikeville right then and there, I knew I first had to go on with the visitation of the parks. To Prestonsburg. Dewey Lake State Park was created some 50 years ago and renamed in honor of Jenny Wiley, who was taken captive by Indians during the early days of settlement here in Kentucky. Jenny Wiley State Resort Park is a surprising paradise nestled in the mountains. It has every look and feel of a summer camp. I kept waiting for a whistling Hayley Mills to romp up a stairway looking for her twin a la Parent Trap. Seems every day is an activity day here, from star gazing to tie-dieing shirts to pontoon tours of the lake. Never an empty moment. The way a day at a resort park should be.I wanted a hike but inherited rain as soon as I looked to leave the lodge and hit the trail. A check of the radar showed a squall line from the north (!) colored red covering the park and surrounding area. I looked out of my window to watch a tree fall in the woods next to my room. I could wait!
After the red on the radar succumbed to green and then bare, I set out on the Lake Trail for a quick two mile hike. A light rain still fell, but the smell is amongst my favorite after a downpour in the forest. A better hiking option would be the historically charged Jenny Wiley Trail which uses the same route she took to escape captivity, but on this day the 4.5 miler would wait for another trip as rain continued to threaten.
One unique feature of the park is the Jenny Wiley Theater located on the property, which has been putting on full outdoor musical productions for nearly 50 years! Mom and I were able to watch a very excellent presentation of Grease, live orchestra and all!
I am waiting to see if there will be a bugle call in the morning. Hoping to see some elk out and about.
Greenbo Lake is the final stop on the tour tomorrow. Till then…
Day four of the Unbridled Adventure Tour, and a hike down to the river and back on the agenda. Believe it or not, I’m still looking at Pine Mountain. The same Pine Mountain that overlooks Pineville 110 miles west of here! It’s the Russell Fork that has carved a “break” at this point, creating the largest canyon east of the Mississippi.
This would be no easy hike to the bottom. It never is when you have to deal with a 1900 foot elevation change. It looked easy on paper, save for the squiggly line on the map that I knew would be a switchback. That meant an upcoming drop. And oh baby what a drop.
Signage at the trailhead warned of a four hour allowance for the four miles of upcoming trail. The experienced hiker that I am expected the four miles to instead take just over one hour, as most hikes that length do. I would be wrong.
Mom and I set out on the Prospector Trail to later junction with the River Trail, covered in rhododendron, ferns, and sheer rock cliffs. Trail blazes painted on rocks in places where a tree wouldn‘t do. Trail on the same rocks for several yards here and there. Lots of rocks, especially when staying alert for snakes! Honest to goodness, there were spots in the trail where I would cock my head to one side and think “really?“ And still looking at the ground to cover till the bottom. This is a national park caliber trail in a state park. Little wonder the original plan for the area sixty years ago was to make it a National Park. It has the overlooks, it has the whitewater, and by-golly, it has the hiking!
But instead of holding court as National Park, it can reign as big dog among state parks. In my six years of slogging, this series of trails has got to be one of the more challenging. All along the switchback down to the river from up top I wondered how in the world one could get back up the mountain. The map showed not another squiggly. It showed a straight line. Not good. Believe me. Not good.That straight line was a straight shot up the mountain on the Laurel Branch Trail. A 45 degree incline sort of straight shot. For a solid half mile, it was slow step after slow step. Then rest, and repeat. In places we were even on all fours! Again, the head cocked to the side as I would squint up the face of the mountain and exclaim “you’ve got to be kidding me!” This kind of hiker nonsense continued for another hour. We were 3 hours into that one hour expectation. But smiling. I love a good challenge.
Once back up top near the Stateline Overlook staring back towards Pike County, we had the option of hiking the way back to the lodge via the Overlook Trail, but settled for a road walk instead, the last 1.2 miles on the certainty of asphalt. The water back at the room couldn’t have tasted any better. Four hours indeed.
America is Beautiful, and on this Fourth of July, I am glad to have seen portions of it by way of woodland trail. Happy Independence Day to you and yours. Back on the road tomorrow to elk country.
Daniel Boone’s compass pointed westward for discovery. Mine points eastward. Day three of the tour and embarking on uncharted territory as far as past travels have gone. In 2010 I had made it as far east as Kingdom Come in Cumberland but no further. This day the agenda would take us all the way across the Virginia border. I was ready.
After a breakfast of pancakes at the Pine Mountain State Resort Park and a talk with fellow adventurer Dean Henson, mom and I got on US 119 and headed for Jenkins. Here’s a route that takes you right in the middle of coal country. We met several coal trucks rounding the two lane corners, and drove under the coal conveyors at several places, eastern Kentucky heritage everywhere you look. Seems every license plate read “Friends of Coal.” It’s real here, and a way of life for generations of families.Kingdom Come State Park got a revisit only to see the overlook across to Black Mountain. This is Kentucky’s tallest at just over 4000 feet. The little park is straight up the mountain, and has been known to harbor black bears, though I’ve not seen any yet on either of my two visits. Another feature of the park is the Little Shepard Trail, a tiny road that leads you on top of the linear Pine Mountain, running for several miles in either direction. We wouldn’t be brave enough to take that route on this day, as several spots in the road need a deep breath and Dramamine.
There is a State Park for the Pine Mountain Hiking Trail that also runs the length of the mountain, and we stopped there too. The still developing Pine Mountain Trail State Park has a parking area near one of the best overlooks in Kentucky that I’ve ever seen. Just west, um north, of Ermine on US 119 is a viewpoint so vast it gets pull off points for picture taking. That’s a first for Kentucky. I could have sworn I was in Idaho for a moment. Mom exclaimed “Who knew Kentucky had such views!” Indeed.Onward down the mountain and through Jenkins, we traveled onward to Elkhorn City and highway 80. The same 80 that starts in Hickman County at Columbus. The same 80 that crosses the Eggners Ferry Bridge at LBL. The same 80 that takes you border to border if you want it too. We would. Breaks Interstate Park is NOT on an Interstate. It has to be one of the most out of the way places I’ve ever been to. Turn the atlas in any direction and you still can’t find a good way to get to it. Even the GPS gives up and turns off. Interstate means that it is shared with Kentucky by Virginia, even though most of the park and the lodge rests in the other Commonwealth. Boone discovered the breaks during his discoveries of Kentucky, and one quickly realizes they are amongst a massive geological development. The Russell Fork River has carved out the largest canyon east of the Mississippi River here, and the overlooks are the best of any state park I’ve been to yet. Massive is not the word. They just are.
This place was such a haul to get to that I’ve made it the only two day stop on the tour this year. I’ll be hiking the trails on the 4th and enjoying the freedoms that the outdoors provide. Happy Independence Day to you and yours, and I’ll let you know if I ever make it back into Kentucky!
To Pikeville, then Jenny Wiley State Park in the morning. Till then…
Day two of the 2012 Unbridled Adventure Tour and already logging several out of the way miles between parks. On map, the route from Cumberland Falls to Pine Mountain is supposed to be a quick jaunt from near Corbin to US 25E on down to Pineville and then up the mountain. On this day though, I would trek north at Corbin on Interstate 75, hitting one of my favorite drives in the Commonwealth. Chicago has the Dan Ryan. Louisville the Gene Snyder. Eastern Kentucky has the Hal Rogers Parkway. I was introduced to this drive on last year’s tour when I visited Hazard and Buckhorn Lake. I love the way it zigs and zags though a portion of the Daniel Boone National Forest that looks like it’s on loan from West Virginia. Honestly, worth the money in gas and the time off the clock to take that drive to Justified country.
Once back near London, mom and I headed down US 25 for a quick stop at Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park. Located right in the middle of town, it’s hard to believe at one time this was some of the wildest land in all of the United States. The settled country was smaller then. The park includes a trail blazed by Daniel Boone himself, and the great Wilderness Road used by Dr. Walker and the early surveyors of Kentucky. That road would eventually lead us down to the Cumberland Gap, but first a stop to see a fellow Kentucky Colonel.A short trip to Corbin took us to Sander’s Café. Harlan Sanders pioneered some spices of his own near the Wilderness Road, and all these years later 98 percent of Americans still recognize his face. So only proper that while in Corbin, we’d have some KFC. At the attached museum, we could see early memorabilia of what has made Kentucky Fried Chicken the world’s best. And then of course the bacon sundae a few miles later… After the breakfast/dessert it was time to top the Gap. At the junction of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia in Middlesboro sits the Cumberland Gap National Park. It was the discovery of this route through the mountains in 1750 that led the groundwork for all of what we see in the state and westward today. Think of Kentucky as the original Alaska. In 1750, it was the Wild Bluegrass Yonder. And they came by the thousands for freedom and opportunity. Today, we would top the Gap by motorcar and look down upon the three states below, more cars tinkering along at a brisk pace, taking for granted of how hard it was to cross the same route just a few centuries before. We would take such wilderness route, under a tunnel and back, towards Pineville and the Pine Mountain State Resort Park, the first such in the Parks system, founded in 1924 and among the prettiest in all seasons. I wanted to see if the rock atop Pine Mountain had managed to fall on Pineville yet. Seems in the 1930s a promoter got the bright idea to “chain” a rock outcropping to the mountain to keep it from falling on the city 2200 feet below. Luckily for us all, it was still taut and serving purpose for the good of the entire city.
An Adventure Representative could spend a lifetime at Pine Mountain amongst the waterfalls, bears, and hemlock trees. One does just that. Dean Henson is my fellow rep for the eastern end of the state, and is the naturalist for the Pine Mountain State Park. His writings are some of my favorites, and each month he’ll tell you more about what’s going on here than I could in just one short blog. I will say that if you’ve never had a weekend at Pine Mountain, you’ve missed a Kentucky treasure. Summit views. Charming towns. History abounding. Paradise found.
And Bacon. On the road to Breaks Interstate Park near Elkhorn City. More soon. Road Trip in progress…
“When you’re Hot, you’re Hot…” -Jerry ReedKentucky sure knows how to put on a summer. I’m staring at a shallow falls on the Cumberland River and realizing that I’ve probably got more water pouring off of my forehead at the moment. Three days shy of the Fourth of July, and I’m honestly wondering how it could get much hotter than the popular cliché. I’ll find out mid-week. It’s day one of the 2012 Unbridled Adventure Tour presented by the Kentucky State Parks and Department of Adventure Tourism, powered by Ale-8-One (he he).
A week ago we had been blessed with 75 degrees and a light wind from a cold front. Now a high pressure system decided to stall out over the east coast, churning triple digit temperatures and an interesting twist to the week ahead for this Outdoorsman. At least seven parks on the docket, plus a couple of side trips here and there that will promise to be a hot time indeed. And I’m bringing Mom along for the tour this year, so I can’t even swear to mock the heat for the entire seven days (It’s hotter than heck out here!).We would begin the trip early via highway 90 off the usual four lane route southeast of Glasgow. Kentucky 90 gets good around Marrowbone, and a must drive in the fall as it gives several views of rolling hillside and not much else to distract. Plus, you’ve got to see Burkesville at least once in your life. Driving over the Cumberland River even there, I realized just how vast that waterway is. We continued onward towards Suzie, Monticello, and Burnside, where the first stop of the tour took place. More like a drive-through. General Burnside Island is a popular golfing and boating park just south of Somerset on US 27. Named after the Union Army general who stationed troops there during the Civil War. For the life of me though, I’m still puzzled about the Island part, even after a lengthy consult of google maps. Evidently there is a causeway. It does offer great views of Lake Cumberland, however, and multiple camping spots to boot. I will mention that the heat was such that the pool was completely dry! Honest to goodness. It was my first steps out of the car, and already I could tell it would be a hot one! Leaving Burnside and farther south on 27 we stopped at Natural Arch in the Daniel Boone National Forest, a formation that easily rivals Natural Bridge at the state park up north. In fact, only 30 or so feet separate the two in length, the state park version being the longer and more popular of the two. A five mile trail takes you from the overlook area to the base of the arch and around, but on this day we’d settle for a few pictures from above and head on down the road, air-conditioner full bore.
After a brief stop in Stearns at the Big South Fork Railway Museum, we trekked back up 27 and onward to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. Catfish and hushpuppies in the dining room overlooking the Cumberland, and then a short hike on trail number 6 from the lodge to the base of the hillside, partaking in the usual awe-inspiring views the Cumberland Falls always promises. Mom’s first time at the falls. My seventh trip. Lucky Seven. And when you’re hot, you’re hot.Cumberland Falls State Resort Park offers plenty for the weekend stay, including horseback riding, a (full) swimming pool, multiple hiking trails (#9 is a must…) and even one of the state’s only whitewater rafting opportunities through Sheltowee Trace Outfitters. If I could only visit a hand-full of the 50 plus state parks in Kentucky, I’d put Cumberland Falls on that list.
Back in the room and sweat soaked, worn out not from the hike but from the heat, I took a look out of my window, which ironically featured a view of the Dupont Lodge air conditioning unit.
I thanked my God. More from the tour tomorrow. We’re just gettin’ started…
Memorial Day Weekend is, first and foremost, a time to honor those that have served and sacrificed for the benefit of us all. The holiday weekend also marked the unofficial beginning of summer, and I found myself searching for something to do outside. As the mercury pushed above 90 and most headed for the nearest body of water, or watering hole, I waited on the sun to go down. I too went in search of water, but not the large lakes and rivers that attracted the masses. No, my destination was a small pond, much too small for a boat and lined with trees, making access difficult. There were no beaches around the bank of this water body, but rather a thick mud that that tried to hold onto you by your boots with each step. Luckily I was able to round up a partner, as this endeavor was best attempted with backup. The clock approached 11:00 pm as we neared the water’s edge. Once we saw the water, we stopped and listened. It wouldn’t take long to know what kind of night we were going to have. Thankfully, we were greeted by one of the sweetest sounds of summer…the unmistakable croak of the bullfrog (click link to listen).
That’s right, its time to go gigging. One of the sweetest delicacies known to the human palate is a plate full of freshly fried frog legs. The first step in eating frog legs happens far away from the kitchen. Bullfrogs can be found all throughout the commonwealth. Farm ponds like the one described above are obvious hot spots, but they can also be found along the banks of creeks, rivers and larger lakes. Night is the preferred time for chasing frogs, as a strong light will aid in both locating and capturing them.
Much like the variety of locations one can find bullfrogs, there are a number of ways to attempt to take them. The most basic, yet perhaps most challenging way is to grab them by hand. This technique requires either a hunting OR fishing license. If attempting to take them with a firearm, a hunting license is required. A .22 short-hollow point seems to be a particularly popular round among veteran frog hunters. A line and hook may also be used, in which case a fishing license is required. Small profiled worm baits are popular, as is apparently using a small piece of red fabric or cloth (though I can not personally vouch for this method). The last technique, and my personal favorite, is to take them with a gig. Gigging can also be done with either a hunting or fishing license. Gigs can be found in all shapes and sizes, with personal preference playing the largest part in final selection. My gig was loaned to me by my grandfather and is older than I am. The cane handle measures ten feet in length and has a three pronged gig on the top of it. On a recent trip to the local Wal-Mart I was somewhat surprised to find gigs for sale in the Sporting Goods section.
The partner mentioned earlier had never been gigging. When I approached him about the possibility of spending a few hours out in the middle of nowhere, stomping around a pond in the dark he seemed surprisingly eager to accompany me. We loaded up on caffeine & flashlights and headed out. Once arriving at the pond I found the first one in a matter of seconds. After shining him with my headlamp, creeping within inches of where he sat in the mud and stabbing mightily with the ancient gig, I pulled it back out of the mud to find absolutely nothing on the end. Figures. Things soon picked up though. We started on a hot streak, bagging 5 frogs in roughly 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the garbage bag I had supplied us to keep the frogs in started to tear (a rookie mistake on my part, having been taught better) and we regrouped back at the vehicle to find a new sack. We spent another hour or so sloshing around the edges of the pond that we could reach. There was one particularly loud croaker that sat across the pond, but seeing as how neither of us cared much to go for a swim he still resides there and not in my refrigerator. We each missed a few, and we scared a few more off not paying close enough attention. That’s OK though, it simply means there will be plenty more the next time we return to that particular pond.
All in all it was a great night and I was pleased to see that he enjoyed himself. When asked about going again he readily agreed. Frog Gigging is an easy, inexpensive way to spend some quality time outdoors even during the dog days of summer.
Get ready for some Adventure After Dark-
P.S. I had it in my mind to show a picture of the frog legs after they had been fried. The problem was that they did not last long enough for any photographic evidence. Maybe next time…
THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF TRAVEL
Capital Plaza Tower 22nd Floor, 500 Mero Street, Frankfort, KY 40601