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Funding sought to restore Putney Ranger Station

Efforts are continuing with the renovation of the historic Putney Ranger Station, and with the Harlan County Bicentennial celebration that is taking place this year, the restoration project is receiving more momentum. It is funding that the restoration project is lacking, however, but with Harlan County’s history in the spotlight this year as its 200th anniversary is being observed and celebrated, both officials and community residents are hoping more attention will be brought to the significance of the unique structure, and that additional money will become available.

The Putney Ranger Station was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program initiated under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, in the late 1930s as headquarters for firefighting and forestry maintenance operations in southeast Kentucky.

It is the oldest state ranger station built adjacent to the state’s oldest forest, Kentenia State Forest on Pine Mountain. While one side of the station contained forestry offices, the other side was the home to the head ranger and his family. Putney resident Nancy Lawson lived in the station as a young girl when her father, the late Astor Holcomb, was head ranger. She has personal memories tied to the building, but she maintains the station has significant meaning for all of Harlan Countians, as well as the entire state.

“Harlan County wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this building,” Lawson said. “It is from this building where action was planned to combat the county’s forest fires, and where our rangers worked to keep our forest lands and its inhabitants safe. I certainly do have fond memories of this place, because it’s where I spent some of my most special times as a young girl. This building is special to all of Harlan Countians. It’s a big part of our history that needs to be preserved and promoted.”

It’s not only the station’s history that makes it unique, but the structure itself. Materials to construct the cabin all came from Kentenia State Forest. The logs for the cabin, the rocks for the stunning stone fireplace — all came from the confines of the state’s oldest forest and from the aged realm of Pine Mountain’s ecosystem. Stories make the Putney Ranger Station a valuable part of Harlan’s history, but the log cabin itself, with over 10 rooms, make the station a visible fixture of Pine Mountain’s legacy.

“This building is Pine Mountain,” said Harlan County District 3 Magistrate Paul Browning during a recent tour of the Putney Ranger Station with Lawson. He pounded the hard rocks that make up the den’s fireplace and said “This is not Styrofoam. This is rock. This is real. This is Pine Mountain. And it’s still standing. This is not found in any other place in the world, and it’s right here in Harlan County. This is our past, our heritage. This is us.”

According to Putney Ranger Station restoration project manager Tony Felosi, who works for Harlan County government, Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley spearheaded efforts to restore the building in the mid 2000s when he worked as a county special projects coordinator during a previous administration.

Mosley secured $150,000 in grant funding for a new roof to protect the interior of the station, but further renovation efforts have been stalled because of budgetary constraints. Felosi said it was important to continue restoration work on the ranger station, not only to protect the historical structure, but to also utilize it as part of Harlan County’s tourism plans.

“The Putney Ranger Station has been a big part of our past, but it can also be a big part of our future with what it has to offer,” Felosi said. “It lies at the base of Kentenia State Forest, which ties in to The Little Shepherd Trail, Kingdom Come State Park, The Appalachian Trial, and The Great Eastern Trailhead. The county has been working on plans to best utilize the ranger station for several years. We just need the funding to make it happen.”

Harlan County governmental officials have been working on plans for a horse trail to begin at the ranger station that leads to the Little Shepherd Trail in Kentenia Forest. As for the building itself, the county would like to see a Kentucky Forestry and Civilian Conservation Corps museum located inside, as well as a place for local traditional crafts to be displayed, and a conference-type center to be established for meetings and community gatherings.

“The possibilities are endless with how we can best utilize this historic structure for our countywide tourism plans,” Browning said. “This is an absolutely gorgeous structure, and people will want to come just to see it. We now must come up with creative ways to secure the funds that are needed to make this structure a global showpiece, and to begin programming and events here to continue our Harlan County story.”

The Putney Ranger Station lies on the border of Browning’s district, along with District 1 Magistrate Clark Sparky Middleton, who has also been instrumental in working to preserve the station. Lawson said it was her goal to get more elected officials and county residents to support restoration efforts.

Lawson is currently working on a book about the history of The Little Shepherd Trail and The Putney Ranger Station, and how forest rangers like her father not only protected the forest lands of Harlan County but were instrumental in constructing some of the county’s roads and parks, like The Little Shepherd Trail and Kingdom Come State Park.

Both Lawson and Felosi will be giving tours of the historic Putney Ranger Station on May 3-4 as part of the first Harlan County Bicentennial event called “Wild Pine Mountain – A Primitive Lands of Harlan County Lecture Series.”

The event will take place on May 4 at the Harlan County Shrine Ground and Conference Building, just below the hill where the Putney Ranger Station is located. According to Felosi, the purpose of the lecture series is to educate people about the historical, cultural and natural significance of Pine Mountain — which will include lectures on Kentenia State Forest, The Little Shepherd Trail, the Putney Ranger Station, wildlife, geology, frontier life and Native American ancestry.

Lawson is scheduled to speak on the history of The Little Shepherd Trail and The Putney Ranger Station at 5 p.m. on May 4. Felosi will be presenting a talk of mountain mysteries on the night of May 3 at the Shrine grounds. Both will be giving tours of the Putney Ranger Station on Friday evening and at scheduled times during the day on Saturday.

“We are hoping to use this Wild Pine Mountain event not only to educate people about our more primitive history, but also as a springboard to begin serious measures to save, restore, and promote the Putney Ranger Station, and we hope the community will get behind us in this worthy cause,” he said.

For more information about “Wild Pine Mountain,” log onto the event’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/372756446846791/?ti=cl . For more information about tours of the Putney Ranger Station, call 573-4223. More stories will be written about the legacy of Pine Mountain, including Little Shepherd Trail history, in upcoming stories in the Harlan Enterprise celebrating Harlan County’s Bicentennial.