Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 25, 2013

For all ages

River trails broaden appeal of area's 'adventure tourism'

The Independent

ASHLAND — When politicians and economic development leaders talk about the tremendous potential there is for “adventure tourism” in eastern Kentucky, they usually are thinking of tourists speeding over mountain roads on their all-terrain vehicles, rafting on the raging rapids of a mountain stream,  hiking a rugged mountain trail, or crawling through a dark, damp cave.

After all, those are the types of “adventure tourisms” that draw the most attention from the media and attract young tourists looking for the type of adventures that are both fun and a bit daring and risky. There are a number of such attractions already existing in this part of Kentucky and new ones are opening all the time.

However, being bounced around while speeding over a mountain trail on an ATV and holding on for dear life in a raft navigating rough waters are not everyone’s idea of how to have a great time. For the less adventurous among us, there are attractions like the new Hatfield-McCoy River Trail, which includes an 8.5 mile stretch on the Levisa Fork in Pikeville. It is a “blueway” that hopes to attract those who prefer a relaxing float on calm waters to a rough ride over rapids.

The Hatfield-McCoy River Trail has been officially designated as a Kentucky Blue Water Trail. So has the Tygarts Creek Rail Trail that connects downtown Olive Hill with Carter Caves State Resort Park. Both provide additional reasons for tourists to come to eastern Kentucky.   

The Hatfield-McCoy River Trail will open Friday and remain open though September. Sean Cochran, tourism director for Pikeville, said  the new river trail offers people the chance to float down the calm waters of the Levisa River in their choice of canoes, kayaks and float tubes. He says it is a family-friendly activity.

The Levisa Fork holds gentle riffles and flowing shoals, perfect floating conditions for families and beginners. This section is ideal for canoes, kayaks and small one-man pontoon boats, Cochran said.

 To promote tourism on Tygarts Creek, Carter Caves State Resort Park is planning the BYOK Tygarts Creek Kayak Float, a six-mile journey that cuts through Kentucky’s most scenic limestone gorge, which will begin at 10 a.m.  May 11 at the Carter Caves welcome center. The trip will take about three hours.   

In case you have not guessed it, BYOK means bring your own kayak. Participants also are asked to bring a  paddle, life jacket, correct attire for cool weather paddling, a complete change of clothes, treaded footwear, sack lunch, bottled water and a dry bag for supplies. The cost is $25 per person.

To promote use of the new Hatfield-McCoy River Trail, the city of Pikeville offers free shuttles for those who own kayaks or canoes at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each Friday, Saturday and Sunday from April through October at the Thompson Road River Access behind the Texas Roadhouse restaurant. It also offers kayak and canoe rentals.

For many years, area residents who have seen the Tygarts Creek Gorge have told us it features some of the most spectacular natural beauty found anywhere in Kentucky, but most people have never seen it even though it is a short distance from Carter Caves, Interstate 64 and Olive Hill.  That’s because the best way to see it is from a canoe, kayak or raft on the creek.

Two floats showcase the Tygarts Creek Gorge. These floats are suitable for beginners and families at normal water levels, but grow more challenging at higher water.

The first float begins in downtown Olive Hill at the Tygarts Creek Rail Trail Park, adjacent to the Ky. 986 (Cross Street) bridge over the creek. The launch and parking area are on the right just before the bridge on Cross Street The take-out is at the Ky. 182 bridge at Carter Caves State Resort Park.

Expect to carry your boat over shallow riffles and shoals in summer on this float. Smart paddlers would quickly burn the first six miles of water until they reach the I-64 bridge, so they may enjoy the incredible views of the Tygarts Creek Gorge that begin shortly after the bridge.

Some of us are either too old or too young to speed over a rugged mountain trail on an ATV or to bounce around in a raft on river rapids.

But most of us are not too young or too old to safely enjoy a rather leisurely boat ride in the Hatfield-McCoy River Trail or on the Tygarts Creek Rail Trail. They broaden the appeal of “adventure tourism” in this region.