The Red River Gorge, a popular recreation area in danger of being "loved to death," will be getting some help to stay clean.
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a nonprofit organization based in Boulder, Colo., has named the gorge as its first "Hot Spot."
The selection means that trainers from the center will attend some events in the gorge to talk to people about "Leave No Trace" camping and recreation, and will promote the concept though social media and contacts with universities, clubs and others who use the area.
The gorge covers 29,000 acres in Wolfe, Powell and Menifee counties. It offers hiking, camping, rock-climbing, canoeing and other activities that draw people from around the world.
The Leave No Trace Center noted that all that recreation has resulted in "litter, trail erosion, damage to vegetation, and vandalism of property, natural features, and cultural/heritage sites."
"It's got a tremendous amount of recreation-related impact and some of it's not recreation-related," said Ben Lawhon, the center's educational director. "People carving their names in the rocks...is not necessarily recreation."
The center began asking for nominations for its first Hot Spot in January. It got a lot of nominations from the Midwest and California.
Lawhon said details of what the center will do for the gorge still are being worked out.
So far, trainers are scheduled to attend the Living Archeology Weekend held at the Gladie Center in the Gorge each September, and the Rocktoberfest sponsored by the Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition each October.
One appeal of the Living Archeology Weekend, Lawhon said, is the 1,000 fifth-grade students who come through each year.
The center also will promote the gorge and the idea of protecting it to its 35,000 Facebook fans, 6,000 Twitter followers and 25,000 volunteers.
When most people hear an explanation of how their behavior is damaging a natural area, they will change, Lawhon said.
But that won't work with the people who carve on rock or throw beer cans out the window.
"We're under no allusions that we're going to reach everyone with this program," Lawhon said. "There's going to have to be a traditional law enforcement presence there. What we're trying to do is reach the willing audience."
Coincidentally, May is Leave No Trace Month in Kentucky, with workshops on low-impact outdoor recreation held at a number of state parks.