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May 1, 2003

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A unique combination of national river and national recreation area preserves a section of the Cumberland Plateau west of the Blue Ridge. As the geologic splendor of the region receives national recognition, more and more visitors come to experience a land that is the offspring of the Appalachian Mountains.

When I began exploring the Cumberland Plateau more than a decade ago, I discovered a dramatic landscape. In contrast to the molded mountains and dense forests of Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks and Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, I found more western-like natural wonders. I gazed at raging rivers from the edge of steep-walled canyons, stood beneath masses of suspended sandstone, and escaped the rain under rock overhangs that once sheltered Indian hunting parties.

Much of this tableland in Tennessee and Kentucky I found set aside in state parks and natural areas, recreation sites and wildlife management areas -- more than 50 preserves at last count that took years to experience fully. You can, however, now explore all the distinct features of the plateau at a single site, the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.

Long recognized as an ideal location for such outdoor recreation as horseback riding, hiking and whitewater rafting and canoeing, the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau attracted the interests of preservationists in the late 1960s. The effort originated with a local group, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, which enlisted others in a Big South Fork Coalition, coordinated by Liane Russell one of the founders of TCWP. The coalition worked with then-Senator Howard Baker to draft a bill to establish a recreation area in the region.

The result of the protection effort was the authorization by Congress in 1974 of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The designation is virtually the same as a national park, just established under a different type of legislation, and allowing some activities, such as hunting, that would not be allowed in a national park.

Funds to establish the recreation area were slow in coming. Of the planned 123,000 acres, a few thousand have yet to be purchased, and it's only in the last several years that the staff and infrastructure were ready to cope with an influx of nearly one million visitors a year. But now it's ready, with more than 300 miles of hiking, horse, and mountain bike trails, 86 miles of free-flowing river and tributaries, four campgrounds, a backcountry lodge, picnic areas, swimming pool and plenty of overlooks and historic locations for sightseeing.

The combination of national recreation area and national river at the Big South Fork is a unique approach to managing federal lands. The National Park Service manages the gorge area -- approximately 56,000 acres with bare rock walls and steep wooded slopes leading down to the river -- as virtual wilderness with no development, except for a few authorized roads that wander down to the river. The remaining 67,000 acres back from the rim of the gorge forms the recreation area, with visitor center, campgrounds and stable.

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May 1, 2003

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trains,stearns,kentucky

sure is very Beautiful countryside. i was told to come to stearns,kentucky and take a ride on the train. one day. is the train still running up around the mountain and you can see forts as you ride?

marylisa burnett more than 1 years ago

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