Cumberland Gap Park: From shutdown to showcase

Published 10:12 am Friday, February 22, 2019

By William H. Baker

Contributing Writer

Many people were affected in many ways by the recent shutdown of the federal government. Here at home, the results of the shutdown were observed immediately at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

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There were no National Park Service staff people on duty and no park services until the shutdown ended. In effect, the park was closed.

Though the staff, volunteers and visitors were disappointed, the plans for the months ahead are sure to overshadow most of those disappointments.

Already, major programs and services are in place or are in the planning stages. Just a few days ago, fourth grade students from the STEM program at the J. Frank White Academy were in the spotlight at the park presenting results of a project that started last fall. Their challenge was to develop bridge prototypes that might provide greater safety in crossing creeks within the park.

Ahead in 2019, the park will attract thousands of visitors. The visitation numbers vary upwards to 900,000 in the best years. And, the families that vacation during the summer months account for a big percentage of those numbers. July is typically the most popular vacation month.

Folks from the Tri-State area join international visitors from Australia, Brazil, China and other countries as well as families from the Midwest and most states in the USA.

This year, a major feature at the park will showcase the 200th anniversary of the Newlee Iron Furnace that was in operation at Cumberland Gap from 1820 until about 1880.

As the calendar unfolds, there will be a rare opportunity for families to drive their own vehicles to Hensley Settlement and picnic on the grounds. This valuable replica of family life on the mountaintop is always popular, and to enjoy a picnic there with family and friends will be an important occasion for many. Hensley Settlement was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

If you want to look ahead at exciting opportunities at Cumberland Gap in the months ahead spend a few minutes with Park Ranger Carol Borneman at the Visitor Center or on the surrounding park area. And, look for announcements of forthcoming programs that are appropriate and inviting for visitors of all ages.

Ranger Carol is sure to tell you that the recent shutdown is over and that there is no slowdown in serving the multitude of visitors expected at the park in 2019.

William H. Baker, native of Claiborne County and former resident of Middlesboro, may be contacted at