County receives $200K for trails

Gov. Andy Beshear recently announced his selection of 12 projects totaling $692,058 to receive funding from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP), all of which will upgrade parks and recreational spaces across Kentucky.

Of the 12 projects, Harlan County was awarded $200,000 for the Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure expansion project.

The project proposes adding 18 miles of trails complete with signage and regular trail maintenance, including adding culvert pipes, installing a new metal storage building, filling in ditch lines, trimming limbs, ensuring proper water drainage and placing new gravel where necessary.

“Our parks and outdoor spaces are critically important in our communities and enhance the quality of life for Kentuckians by providing safe, green spaces to exercise and spend time with loved ones,” Beshear said. “Additionally, as we work to make Kentucky a world-class tourist destination, some of these improvements will attract tourism dollars that will help strengthen our economy to build the better Kentucky we’ve always imagined.”

RTP is a competitive, federal program aimed at improving communities and enhancing quality of life by providing assistance for easement acquisitions, trailhead facility upgrades and recreational trail development and maintenance.

District 3 Magistrate Paul Browning III said the county applied for the $200,000 RTP grant well before COVID-19 hit.

“They’re buying beer, bread and bologna somewhere before they get here, so why don’t we give them the opportunity to buy it once they get here?” Browning said. “Right now, they’re all contained at the park. They can maneuver around Evarts somewhat, but if you come in on the Putney side, you may not realize Evarts is across the ridge and you can do those things.”

Browning said it’s been part of the Harlan County Fiscal Court’s brainstorming to find a way to allow people coming to the off-road park to easily travel to a retail area safely and enjoy the scenic Appalachian Mountains in the county.

An outline of an existing road was discovered through drone footage, divided among three different land owners. Browning said discussions with the land owners took place, ultimately leading to the grant application on the understanding usage of the road could be allowed.

“For the most part, it is going to be a section of road or trail extension that kind of parallels US 119 going from the off-road park and ending at the peak of Slope Hollow where it crosses. So, you’ll have the ability to go right into upper KY 38 or left, coming out right at Southeast Community and Technical College.”

Browning said this enables visitors and locals alike who utilize these trails for ATV and off-road traffic to have access to grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and more, while connecting the trails and offering a scenic route for travelers.

In Putney, Browning said the Rail House Grill offers a closer alternative than taking the trail extension leading to Cumberland or Evarts, providing those at the off-road park with quick access to food, gas and other supplies.

Browning said riders also have the ability to continue traveling through the Tri-City area to visit attractions in Cumberland, Benham and Lynch. Although they cannot travel to the Kingdom Come State Park because it is a state maintained property, they can venture to the Benham Schoolhouse Inn, the Kentucky Mine Museum and the like.

“I hope that as we go forward, we can open up some of these old timber and mining roads for ATV, horseback and any form of tourism traffic safely for locals and visitors,” he said.

Browning said locals can expect work on the road to begin soon with weather permitting and another update will be given when it is open to travel.