With one year coming to an end and a new one dawning, a review of just some of the top stories from 2016 contains a variety of topics. The following stories are in no particular order, but each has had or will have an effect on Bell County’s future.
• Many ATV riders were disappointed by the news that the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation project will be taking over the space once occupied by the Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park, however a new riding spot may be on the horizon thanks to some diligent work from area politicians and stakeholders.
“The Appalachian Wildlife Foundation project is one that has the potential to be one of the top tourism destinations in the state and although not being able to ride up on Mountain Drive upsets some folks, we’re doing our best to make sure that 10 years worth of work in making Bell County a top off-road destination doesn’t disappear. We’re working hard to make sure that we find an even better spot to legally ride our trails,” said Bell County Tourism Director Jon Grace in September of 2016.
Nearly 35,000 acres of land in Bell County is currently being negotiated by private property owners, Grace, Judge Executive Albey Brock and Deputy Judge Executive Rob Lincks. This land will reportedly adjoin to the Tackett Creek Riding area in Claiborne County for a total of 78,000 acres of ATV riding land.
• To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the opening of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, CGNHP held an event on Oct. 18. The event had an exhibit of additional photos from the construction and tunnel employees to answer questions about the history of the tunnel. All those years ago, one of the world’s feats of engineering was completed right here in the Tri-State. Years of geological research, engineers crunching numbers and designing went into the tunnel project.
Many locals drive through it at least once a day and have forgotten what life was like before the Cumberland Gap Tunnel. A quick trip to the grocery or to the next state is made safer and simpler thanks to the tunnel. Construction was completed just two decades ago and the machinery, manpower and technology used helped to convert what was once known as the dangerous “Massacre Mountain” to a bustling highway which has benefited tourism, the flow of traffic and an important part of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
Day to day operations at the tunnel now require the teamwork of 35 employees with job titles ranging from mechanical engineers and electronics specialists to maintenance technicians and operations staff. Many employees are cross-trained in emergency response, firefighting and HAZ-MAT to ensure the safety of motorists crossing through the tunnel daily.
• Cumberland Gap National Historical Park was celebrated with more than 2200 students, several national dignitaries, park staff and visitors during the launch of a U.S. Minted quarter in honor of the park in April. Congressman Hal Rogers spoke to students and visitors about the significance the Cumberland Gap played in history and the importance of having Daniel Boone depicted on a quarter. He suggested that the distribution of the quarter will help promote the area across the country and potentially the world.
Every student received a quarter in a protective coin case to commemorate their time today. Rogers suggested the students should save the quarter as a special piece of history to pass down for generations.
Other dignitaries in attendance include Stan Austin, regional director of the southeast region of the National Park Service, Marc Landry, plant manager of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and Donna McClure, representative from Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office, to name a few.
The quarter launch event was a wrap-up to An American Memoir — a weekend of educational events, living history demonstrations and a celebration of the centennial of the National Park Service. Reenactors portrayed stories of Cherokee Indians, George Washington, Daniel Boone, enslaved people, traders and long hunters who played a vital role in local and national history.
• Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College will have the opportunity to make an even larger impact on the area due to an expansion on the Middlesboro campus. The groundbreaking ceremony in May involved friends of the college, community businesses and donors as well as the SKCTC Board of Directors. SKCTC President at the time, Dr. Jay Box, spoke about the significance of the new building.
“(Health care classes) offered at SKCTC provide the opportunity to complete one of these programs quickly and move into the career field at the next stage of their life,” said Box.
Middlesboro Mayor Bill Kelley spoke about how many different areas of the community have worked together during both tough times and exciting times, such as this. He believes this expansion is promising and will be a stepping stone to bigger things for the city. Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock gave words of encouragement for the community to support the school financially and politically.
“We tend to take for granted day to day how important this college is to our community. As other suffer, the community college is the vehicle in which they use to improve their quality of life so nothing can be anymore important than supporting this college,” said Brock.
The Middlesboro Educational Alliance Center will be a two-story building housing nursing, healthcare, general education, education and aviation classes to name a few. It will also house some f the specialty labs which are currently located in Pineville.
The completed project under the direction of Lexington-based firm Clotfelter-Samokar, will take approximately $2.5 million to complete and fundraising efforts have been ongoing to complete the project.
• Land which was formerly owned by the Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Development Authority was purchased by the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation — a non-profit organization aimed at educating the public on ecosystems in the mountains. The announcement was made in September.
A portion of the land was formerly used as the Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park, which had a successful run as a weekend hot-spot for ATV enthusiasts and campers. In total, the AWF will cover 12,000 acres or approximately 19 square miles.
“We want the center to be like a combination of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Cades Cove drive in the Smoky Mountains. When it’s all done, visitors can expect a loop road drive where they can see elk, deer and bears,” said AWF President and CEO David Ledford. “You’ll be driving through spectacular, beautiful country and seeing these animals, picnic shelters, hiking trails, interpretive signs to explain the geologic forces, as well as how reclamation works with old coal mines.”
Ledford believes this will be a multi-day experience for families to vacation and learn about Appalachian wildlife. The project is projected to open in July of 2019.
See the Jan. 4 edition of the Middlesboro Daily News or visit our website at www.middlesborodailynews.com for the Sports Year in Review.