Cory Ramsey was a governor's scholar who went on to earn a broadcasting and political science degree from Western Kentucky University. Then he discovered there was more money to be made welding truck frames at a factory in Bowling Green.
But in 2009, when the economy was on the ropes and Ramsey was given a layoff he knew would last only two months, he had some time to explore another passion — Kentucky's outdoors.
Ramsey grew up in Hickman, a small county seat that hugs the Mississippi River at the far western edge of Kentucky. He spent his youth fishing, hunting and hiking.
Those two months off made him think there might be a way to use his communications skills to turn his love for Kentucky's outdoors into a business opportunity.
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Since then, Ramsey has built his own little media enterprise while crisscrossing the state to visit all 120 counties and every state parks.
Ramsey writes about his adventures and offers hiking advice for the state tourism department's Outdoor Adventure blog (Getoutky.com). He posts videos on his own website (Coryramseyoutdoors.com). And he does monthly outdoor video segments for WBKO-TV in Bowling Green and radio shows for little stations across the state.
"My emphasis is on exploration made easy," he said recently when he passed through Lexington after spending a weekend hiking in Red River Gorge. "I tell people the best places to go for a fun day outdoors."
His latest media venture explores another passion — Kentucky's crossroads communities and small towns, which he calls "Map Dots." Last August, he launched the Map Dot, Kentucky Facebook page to celebrate them.
"I wanted to prove that if you take a back road you'll see things you never knew about," said Ramsey, who visits and photographs each place he features on the page. "What makes it work is the personal touch."
Ramsey said he hopes to eventually cover every "Map Dot" in Kentucky, "although that may take me a few years."
Recent Map Dots he has visited include Glendale in Hardin County, Tomahawk in Martin County, Irvington in Breckinridge County, Danville in Boyle County, Rowletts in Hart County and Columbus Belmont State Park in Hickman County.
"My message is, I have seen so much more in Kentucky than horses and bourbon and Daniel Boone and Lincoln," he said. "You're brought up in Kentucky with state pride, but many folks are ignorant of so much the state has. They have never taken the time to explore even the next county over."
The Map Dot, Kentucky Facebook page so far has gotten more than 5,500 "likes." It has steady interaction from regular readers, most of them in Kentucky or originally from the state.
"I would like to be able to travel all the time," Ramsey said, but added that he hasn't yet figured out how to turn his media business into a career that pays much more than enough to cover the cost of his gas.
To do that, Ramsey will have to find more freelance opportunities, sell more Map Dot T-shirts and figure out new ways to generate revenue.
Until then, he plans to keep welding for Bowling Green Metalforming, a division of Magna International that makes Explorer frames for Ford's Louisville assembly plant. That business is booming, which has meant a lot of overtime pay for Ramsey but less time for him to explore and share the wonders of Kentucky.