Herald-Leader Editorial

Thanks for saving forests, wildlife; mountain trail helps fight climate change

May 16, 2014 

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A hiker stopped in a rock shelter just off a trail on Pine Mountain from Breaks Interstate Park to U.S. 23, in Jenkins.

JANET WORNE — LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER Buy Photo

As we contemplate the expected slow slipping away of Antarctica's ice, Kentuckians can take some solace in the slow steady amassing of forest in a 120-mile Pine Mountain Wildlife Corridor.

Many thanks are due to lead givers Tom Dupree Sr. of Lexington and Christina Lee Brown of Louisville.

They, along with other partners such as the Forecastle Foundation, an offshoot of the popular music and art festival in Louisville, helped the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust purchase 46 acres in the wild, remote and biologically rich Laurel Fork watershed of Whitley County.

The new purchase is adjacent to the 1,864-acre Archer Benge State Nature Preserve, the state's third largest.

How wild and remote is it? Locals have long referred to the area as South America, and you have to go through Tennessee to drive to the newly protected land.

The Laurel Fork preserve serves as the southern anchor for what's envisioned as a corridor stretching the length of Pine Mountain along Kentucky's border with Tennessee and Virginia.

The Pine Mountain corridor could eventually link to an 1,800 mile Great Eastern Trail that's in the works from Alabama to the Finger Lakes of New York.

Such a rich opportunity for hikers, backpackers, birders and other nature lovers would help diversify Eastern Kentucky's economy through tourism and by attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs.

But with the new state budget raiding the state's Heritage Land Conservation Fund of $8 million to pay for public schools and other basic needs, the completion of the Pine Mountain Wildlife Corridor will depend more than ever on private giving.

And there are still vast tracts of land to be bought if the corridor is to be protected.

While there's plenty of room for tourists, Pine Mountain harbors many rare plants and animals, including migratory birds that spend part of their year in the real South America.

This vast expanse of forest also soaks up carbon and holds it. Recent scientific studies have more deeply documented the effects of climate change caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including what scientists say is the now unavoidable melting over the next century of an ice shelf in western Antarctica and resulting rise in sea levels.

Preserving forests provides a bastion against climate change and leaves a legacy for which future generations will be even more grateful.

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