March 31, 2000 | By: Haven Miller

Standing high on a wooded mountain ridge in Letcher County, a hiker can look south and see Virginia, and look north and see Kentucky. The view is a beautiful, eagle's-eye panorama, one that rivals any you will see in America. The winding path that takes you to this scenic vista is called the Pine Mountain Trail, and Kentucky's Cooperative Extension Service is playing a pivotal role in its development.

"The Extension Service has done the lion's share of the work in getting us where we are now," said Ross Kegan, vice president of Black Mountain Resources and one of the trail's main supporters. "Extension's involvement in community development has been an important part of keeping the momentum going on this."

Kegan and Shad Baker, who is Letcher County's Cooperative Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources, have been involved with the trail project since early 1997. Supported by several state and federal agencies, the project is turning a 120-mile stretch of mountaintop wilderness into a non-motorized, multi-use public trail that eventually will connect several state and federal parks.

"With the Breaks Interstate Park being so close, and Kingdom Come State Park and Pine Mountain State Park, we see this as a way to tie those areas together," said Baker. "We've broken the trail into six sections with major roads serving as boundaries. It will stretch all the way to Cumberland Gap National Park, and have a multitude of nature preserves and other things for hikers or horseback riders to see."

In addition to breathtaking views, hikers along Pine Mountain will see early homesteads, old stone walls built by civil war soldiers, upland bog areas, unique geological formations, wild turkey and white-tailed deer, and unusual flowers and other plants. Baker believes the trail represents both an educational and tourism resource, and is a good example of how Cooperative Extension addresses local needs.

"Here in Letcher County we don't have as much of the traditional row crops and agriculture like you would see in central or western Kentucky, so we focus more on natural resource management and water quality," said Baker. "Extension also has the connections to other agencies that are needed to help develop projects like the Pine Mountain Trail."

According to Kegan, public response to the trail project has been extremely positive.

"We've gotten ringing endorsements from everyone who has heard of it -- political groups, county officials, state representatives and senators, and they all think it's a worthy project" said Kegan. "Extension has helped put us where we are. Shad is a very organized agent and deals with detail very well. He's also gotten excellent support from his area director, David Adams, which means a lot to the county."


Shad Baker 606-633-2394