Officials have canceled a proposal for commercial logging in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Rockcastle County that had caused concern about the potential impact on a pristine spring and trees hundreds of years old.
An official with the U.S. Forest Service confirmed the decision to the Herald-Leader and Kentucky Heartwood, a forest education and advocacy group which was against the plan.
Opponents of the logging plan had proposed horse and hiking trails as an alternative in one area.
They plan to continue pushing that idea with the U.S. Forest Service now that the logging plan has been withdrawn.
Jim Scheff, a forest ecologist with Kentucky Heartwood, said he was thrilled to learn late last week that the Forest Service had withdrawn the logging proposal.
The proposal at issue was called the Crooked Creek Vegetation Management project, in the Climax and Little Egypt areas.
The Forest Service proposed a mix of commercial logging and tree-thinning that it said would improve the health of the forest, diversify habitat and provide trees for future use.
The Forest Service also proposed using herbicides to kill non-native, invasive plants.
Parts of the public forest in the area have been heavily logged in the past. There was some agreement about the need for improvement measures.
However, Kentucky Heartwood and others argued the proposed logging was too extensive.
The proposal called for cutting nearly all the trees in some spots, Scheff said.
Scheff said he has documented trees more than 250 years old in the Little Egypt area. One, a shortleaf pine more than 300 years old, is the second-oldest known tree of its species in the Eastern United States, he said.
There also was particular concern that the logging and herbicide use could damage Climax Spring, one of the state's largest continuously flowing underground springs.
A local company bottles the high-quality water, and hundreds use the spring to get their drinking water.
"We certainly don't want anybody to do anything that would damage the natural resource," Rockcastle County Judge-Executive Buzz Carloftis said.
The Forest Service is required to take public comment on proposals such as the Crooked Creek project.
The agency received some comments in favor of the logging, but also got a significant amount if negative feedback, said Jason Nedlo, the U.S. Forest Service district ranger in the area that includes Rockcastle County.
The agency looked hard at those concerns and decided it was best to cancel the project and engage the public in further discussion, he said.
"We take those concerns seriously," Nedlo said. "The process worked."
Nedlo said the Forest Service still wants to do non-commercial tree-thinning in the project area to improve habitat and the health of the forest — something Scheff said he also supports.
It would require a new environmental assessment to do that, Nedlo said.
Nedlo said he is willing to explore the idea — put forth by Scheff and others — to build several miles of hiking and horse trails in the Little Egypt area, a place of deep-green forest, sandstone ridges, rock cliffs, waterfalls and caves, some of which provide habitat for endangered bats.
Kentucky Heartwood has identified some of the potential route for the trails. Local officials have been involved because of the potential to link the trails to nearby Livingston.
The small town was the first to apply for certification under a new state program to designate Trail Towns, an effort to bring in more tourism spending from hikers, horse riders and others.
Scheff said he would like to see trails with signs along the way to explain the history of the area and its natural features.
"I think there's a great thing the Forest Service can be very proud of here," Scheff said.