September 24, 2003 | By: Aimee D. Heald
interpreter in historical costume

Inside the center, interpreters portray characters of different historical periods.

Elliott County in eastern Kentucky is home to seven pristine gorges. State Rep. Rocky Adkins grew up here, and along the way he got to know the ins and outs of Laurel Gorge quite well. 

“You need to wade-fish the Laurel Gorge,” he said. “You need to get on a horse and ride in Laurel Gorge. I’ve done that and there’s nothing more beautiful.”

The recent completion of the Elliott County Laurel Gorge Heritage and Culture Center is a tribute to the county’s beauty and wealth of natural resources, and is the culmination of teamwork among countless agencies and volunteers. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Sept. 17 to officially open the center to visitors.

Visitors walking through the building are educated about Elliott County’s past and present by interpretive displays and volunteers dressed in period clothing. A nature trail begins behind the building and winds more than one mile into Laurel Gorge highlighting native plants, animals, streams and waterfalls. A wheelchair-accessible portion of the trail extends one-fourth of a mile along a series of boardwalks, bridges and flattened, cleared paths.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service began the process for the center nearly 12 years ago after being asked by county government to help find ways to propel Elliott County into the future, said Gwenda Adkins Elliott County Extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences.

“We mapped out the resources and assets across the county and then started emphasizing our positive points and selling them to people in the county,” she said. “Then we recruited volunteers to work with Extension specialists to bring more people and agencies into the project.”

Elliott Co. Judge Exec. Charles Pennington leads a group of visitors down the new trail into Laurel Gorge.

The land belongs to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who, along with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, generously allowed the center to be built there and considerably helped with the construction of the building and the trails, Gwenda Akins said.

“The heritage center is about eastern Kentucky,” she said. “It’s about our culture; where we came from; who we are. It’s been a work in progress for nearly 12 years but this is just the beginning.”

Elliott County Judge-Executive Charles Pennington said the ribbon cutting was a very important day for the area. 

“Things are looking better these days (for eastern Ky.),” he said. “That is a result of a lot of teamwork among different organizations like the Governor’s Office, UK, Fiscal Court, the tourism council, state Transportation Department, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and our state senators and representatives. We truly believe this is something our people and all of eastern Kentucky can enjoy.”

Inside the center, displays feature the first inhabitants of the area, early industry, agriculture, education and folk art. Natural resource exhibits include birds of the area, live animals, a stream aquarium, turtles and reptiles.

Gwenda Adkins said the center also has a unique classroom that teachers can use as an extension of the school system; however the center also will educate adults. 
Special programs such as bird watching and water quality can be geared to any age group. A weather station sits atop the center’s roof, recording current conditions and helping forecast weather to serve as an educational tool for youths and adults alike.

Perhaps the center’s biggest asset is the volunteers who put in many hours to complete exhibits and trails and educate local residents about the resources the center will provide.

“If we use the national equation for volunteer hours, we have had more than $1,000 per Elliott County citizen put into this project from volunteer hours,“ Gwenda Adkins said.

State Transportation Secretary James C. Codell said the project took a lot of ingredients to make a special recipe.

“We have accomplished our objective,” he said. “This will serve as a means to educate young people about how wonderful their heritage is.”

Flo Whitley, a member of the Elliott County Tourism Council, echoed the Secretary’s sentiments.

“This is something our people can be proud of,” she said. “In an area that has been economically distressed, we have generations growing up that have forgotten what pride they can have in their area. But if educators and parents will bring their children here, I think they can go away with great pride in this area.” 

Rep. Adkins agreed that the center will be a source of pride for Elliott and surrounding counties.

“Today we celebrate a project to preserve history and culture and to invite young and old from this county, other counties and other states to not only come and go through this center, but to walk these trails and go down into the Laurel Gorge and really see how beautiful it is.” 

The center is located off State Route Old 7 and 32 on Laurel Gorge Curves Road, 1-1/2 miles north of Sandy Hook. For more information or more detailed directions, contact the Elliott County Cooperative Extension Office at 606-738-6400.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 859-257-4736, ext. 267
Contact: Gwenda Adkins 606-738-6400