Conservation group buys 2,050 acres on Pine Mountain to protect as a nature preserve

Less than 50 miles from Lexington, the beauty and majesty of the Eastern Kentucky mountains start to come into focus along the Mountain Parkway.
Less than 50 miles from Lexington, the beauty and majesty of the Eastern Kentucky mountains start to come into focus along the Mountain Parkway. Lexington Herald-Leader

Efforts to protect one of Kentucky’s ecologic gems have taken a big step forward with a conservation group’s purchase of 2,050 acres on Pine Mountain.

The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust announced Tuesday it had completed the purchase.

The tract in Bell County will be called The Narrows Preserve, the trust said.

Pine Mountain provides critical habitat for dozens of rare or endangered species in its thick forest, wetlands and streams, as well as migratory routes for birds and butterflies and shelter for the headwaters of the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers.

The purchase announced Tuesday helps fill the biggest remaining gap in the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail, Kentucky’s portion of a planned 1,800-mile long hiking route called the Great Eastern Trail from New York to Alabama, said Hugh Archer, executive director of the trust.

“It is amazingly important,” Archer said.

The Kentucky part of the trail would cover about 120 miles from Pike County to Bell County.

The hope is that the trail would boost tourism as Eastern Kentucky works to diversify its economy in the face of a sharp drop in coal jobs.

The trust is working on a project to protect the entire 125-mile stretch of Pine Mountain along the state’s southeastern edge.

The trust says the project, called the Pine Mountain Wildlife Corridor, is the largest-ever conservation effort in Kentucky.

The purchase announced Tuesday was the single largest addition of land to the project in the 20-year history of the trust, according to a news release.

Archer said he’d been working on buying the land for 14 years.

The purchase price was about $1.5 million, he said.

The trust received donations to buy the land. Among others, the trust cited Christy Brown; Tom Dupree Sr. of Lexington; the Snowy Owl Foundation; and the Forecastle Foundation as key donors.

The trust announced a campaign last year to raise $10 million to buy a total of 9,000 acres on the mountain in Bell, Harlan, Letcher and Whitley counties.

The trust has raised $6 million for the effort so far, and has bought or optioned about half the land, Archer said.

“This is a whole lot of it,” but there’s still a lot left to acquire, he said.

The purchases by the trust includes land to add to the Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve in Harlan County, the largest remaining tract of old-growth forest in the state.

The preserve includes land on the south and north faces of Pine Mountain, with a canopy of hemlocks, oaks, beeches, tulip poplars, maples, black gums and birches towering 100 feet or more above the forest floor in places.

The trust’s effort to protect and restore wild lands and large forest tracts started with Blanton Forest and then expanded to other projects.