It's May and Kentuckians are celebrating the return of spring and beautiful weather in the Bluegrass State.
Kentucky has much to be proud of, especially when it comes to natural beauty and the outdoors. When travelers from other parts of the United States and other countries visit, they often tell us how lucky we are to live here.
We are also celebrating National Travel and Tourism Week May 4-12 and I want to use this occasion to call attention to one of those wonderful places in Kentucky: Lake Cumberland.
In 2007, the water level was lowered while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made important repairs on Wolf Creek Dam. That complicated and challenging engineering work was necessary for public safety. The work included using more than 300,000 cubic yards of concrete to form a barrier wall.
Unfortunately, the lower water level hurt tourism in the Lake Cumberland region.
The good news is that the repairs to the dam are complete and the water level at Lake Cumberland has been increased by 20 feet for this summer. The Corps plans to return the lake to its normal level in 2014.
Local tourism officials report that fishing has been great this spring and that the news of the higher lake level has created a buzz throughout the Midwest boating and angling community. Local businesses are optimistic that tourism will pick up as the lake level goes up.
Visitation to this lake plays a major role in the economy for many communities. For many families around Lake Cumberland, tourism dollars put food on the table.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will stock 150,000 more walleyes and 150,000 more striped bass than normal this year at Lake Cumberland. Altogether, the department will add 1 million walleye and striped bass to the lake this year to give fishing a boost.
The department also plans to jump-start the trophy trout fishery in the Lake Cumberland tailwater by stocking 10,000 trout larger than 15 inches next winter.
Kentucky has nearly 90,000 miles of rivers and streams, giving the state more flowing water than any state other than Alaska. There are plenty of beautiful lakes across the state, from Kentucky Lake in the west to Yatesville Lake in the east and Laurel River Lake near London to Taylorsville Lake, just outside of Louisville.
The water level at Lake Cumberland isn't the only thing going up.
Gov. Steve Beshear and I will have good news to announce Monday regarding the economic impact of tourism in Kentucky during 2012. There were increases in jobs, wages and tax revenues. All regions across the state saw improved numbers, a good sign for Kentucky's economy.
Many Kentucky communities are developing adventure tourism attractions, and several will be designated as official Trail Towns, as part of our effort to promote and encourage the development of trails for hiking, cycling, horseback riding and canoeing.
We want to tie these trails to these communities and encourage the development of Main Street businesses, restaurants and services to guests.
More than 30 communities have expressed interest in this program, and we are encouraged by their ideas and plans. The state is also developing the Dawkins Line, which will be the longest rail-to-trail project in Kentucky. The first 18 miles of this Eastern Kentucky trail is expected to open this year and will be open to hikers, cyclists and horseback riders.
I'd like to encourage you to spend some time traveling in Kentucky this year, and hope you'll consider a getaway to one of our great state parks, many of which are located on a major lake. Whether it's a houseboat vacation, a camping trip to your favorite fishing spot, or a visit to one of our inviting lakeside communities,
I hope you will see for yourself why we say, "There is only one Kentucky."
Marcheta Sparrow is secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.