Tom Eblen

Daniel Boone blazed this trail in 1775. Hikers, bikers may rediscover it.

Curtis Penix, left, and Givan Fox, in Laurel County during their 2015 hike of the route of Boone Trace, the 200-mile path Daniel Boone and his crew blazed through the Cumberland Gap to Central Kentucky in March 1775. Penix's 5th-great-grandfather, Joshua Penix, took the path to Fort Boonesborough in 1779. A non-profit group is working with the National Park Service and state and local governments to create a driving route and shared-used trail along the historic route.
Curtis Penix, left, and Givan Fox, in Laurel County during their 2015 hike of the route of Boone Trace, the 200-mile path Daniel Boone and his crew blazed through the Cumberland Gap to Central Kentucky in March 1775. Penix's 5th-great-grandfather, Joshua Penix, took the path to Fort Boonesborough in 1779. A non-profit group is working with the National Park Service and state and local governments to create a driving route and shared-used trail along the historic route. teblen@herald-leader.com

Kentucky’s first trail project is now its newest.

The National Park Service has agreed to help a non-profit organization working with state and local officials develop a driving tour and shared-use recreation trail along the route Daniel Boone blazed into the Kentucky wilderness in 1775.

The park service will facilitate five public meetings over the next three months to brainstorm ideas and gather comments to help develop a master plan for the proposed 200-mile Boone Trace trail between Cumberland Gap near Middlesboro and Fort Boonesborough State Park on the Madison-Clark county line at the Kentucky River.

The first public meeting will be May 1 in Richmond. Other meetings will be May 25 in Livingston; June 12 in Barbourville; June 13 in Pineville; and July 13 in London.

“The pieces that are coming together are absolutely amazing,” said Russell Clark, the National Park Service officer assisting the project. “There’s a huge historic aspect to this project that’s an opportunity for Kentucky.”

Clark will use information from the meetings to create an initial master plan for the project. He also will help the non-profit group Friends of Boone Trace identify sources of government money and develop private fundraising strategies.

“It’s been all talk for eight years up until now,” said John Fox, a retired Lexington surgeon and president of Friends of Boone Trace. “This is the ambitious year.”

The National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program chose Boone Trace as one of three promising Kentucky trail projects to receive development assistance this year. The trail concept has been endorsed by the General Assembly and local governments in the five counties where it is located.

Few trail projects can claim such an historic pedigree. Boone Trace was literally the trail that opened Western America to settlement.

Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company hired Boone and his crew of 35 axmen to blaze a trail from near what is now Kingsport, Tenn., through Cumberland Gap and up into Central Kentucky. They did that in March 1775, often connecting ancient buffalo traces and Native American paths.

Over the next 20 years, about 200,000 settlers used Boone Trace to migrate into the Bluegrass and beyond. By the mid-1780s, most of those people were taking a branch off Boone Trace south of London, which went to Harrodsburg and eventually Louisville and became known as the Wilderness Road.

Fox and his non-profit group have been working for eight years to rediscover missing sections of Boone Trace’s historic path, map and mark them and promote the idea of making them a tourist attraction and recreational asset.

Friends of Boone Trace hopes to create a hiking, biking and horse trail as close to the historic route as possible and a Scenic Byway driving route on nearby roads. Many sections of Boone Trace later became railroad lines and highways, such as many sections of U.S. 25 and U.S. 25E.

The group is working with the state Transportation Cabinet’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program to mark the basic trail, which it hopes to have done with in a year. But raising money and getting right-of-way access to some sections of Boone Trace could take years, Fox said.

More than 70 years ago, the Daughters of the American Revolution created monuments and landmarks at many important spots along Boone Trace. Some of those remain, such as at Racoon Springs in Laurel County, once a busy camping spot.

Friends of Boone Trace is working with local officials to create a rest stop at the 1915 DAR marker at Boone Gap on the Madison-Rockcastle County line. That is where Boone was said to have first seen the cane forests of the Inner Bluegrass. U.S. Highway 25 went through Boone Gap until the road was re-routed in 1955.

Aside from educating people about this early Kentucky and American history, trail organizers and the National Park Service want to promote public health and local economic development. Clark, the park service official, said he envisions Boone Trace connecting with other trail systems being developed in Central and Northern Kentucky.

“Someday our children or grandchildren will be able to hike and bike from Cumberland Gap to Cincinnati,” Clark said. “The big vision is there. The energy is there. We’re just helping to make the connections.”

Tom Eblen: 859-231-1415, @tomeblen

If you go

Public meetings for the Boone’s Trace trail master plan

All are from 6 to 9 p.m.

May 1: Richmond. Perkins Building, Eastern Kentucky University.

May 25: Livingston. Gymnasium behind the visitor’s center.

June 12: Barbourville. First United Methodist Church.

June 13: Pineville. Bell Theater.

July 13: London. Disable American Veterans building.

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