Since the news spread about the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation property taking over the former Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park in Bell County, people have worried and wondered about space and land where they can ride ATV’s and horses in the area. Bell County Tourism is partnering with Barbourville/Knox County Tourism to combine efforts which will bring a new off-highway vehicle trail system to southeast Kentucky to replace the trails that were lost.
”If created, this project could potentially see a person being able to ride from Barbourville to Lafollette on trails. That is an unreal connection. The project aims to establish what would be one of the premier off-road trail systems in the entire country,” said Bell County Tourism Director Jon Grace.
The land is a combined 47,000 acres — 35,000 in Bell County and 12,000 in Knox County — which includes more than 500 miles of trails. The property is also adjacent to Tackett Creek Wilderness Management Area in Claiborne County.
“With the loss of Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park, it is imperative that we secure a new riding area as quickly as possible so not to lose the thousands of visitors that have visited here for our trail riding in the past ten years,” said Grace.
According to Grace, project organizers have had preliminary discussions with landowners and are positive about getting the ball rolling for this project to move forward. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife will “support our project as long as we keep their priorities as land managers in mind,” according to Grace.
The next step in the process will include meetings with regional leaders and addressing funding issues; however there are grants which Grace hopes will help to secure a long-term recreational lease.
This project is more than ten years in the making; however, tourism commissions joining efforts has proven to move the project further than it has been in the past.
“If the project could somehow become a reality, there’s no doubt it would be one of the best trail systems and recreation areas in the state — heck, in the eastern part of the country. This area has enormous amounts of potential and this is as sure-fire as it gets for a tourism project,” said Grace.
Reach Kelsey Gerhardt at 606-302-9093 or on Twitter @kgerhardtmbdn.