It covers parts of 21 counties; draws 1.2 million visitors a year to its trails, sandstone cliffs, rivers and lakes; and protects ancient rock shelters, arches and rare species amid the beauty of its steep, forested ridges.
And it just turned 75 years old.
Daniel Boone National Forest was established Feb. 23, 1937, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation to create what was then called Cumberland National Forest. It was renamed in 1966.
The forest originally included less than 350,000 acres in parts of 16 counties. It has grown to include 708,559 acres, said Frank Beum, the forest supervisor.
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That makes the Daniel Boone the biggest tract of federally owned land in Kentucky. It is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
The original idea behind creating the Daniel Boone and other federal forests in the eastern United States was to protect the headwaters of navigable streams and make sure the country had a continuous supply of timber, according to an entry in the Kentucky Encyclopedia.
But as the country became more urban and suburban, recreation has become another key benefit to preserving the land. The forest provides opportunities for hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, rock-climbing, horseback-riding and other activities.
"The No. 1 thing is recreation," Laurel County Judge-Executive David Westerfield said when asked about the effect of the forest on his county.
Many private landowners have barred hunting on their property, and a lot of people don't own private property where they can hunt and fish, so the federal forest is a good option for them, Westerfield said.
"I think it's a plus for our people," he said of the forest.
The Forest Service manages the forest for a number of other uses, including timber, wildlife, water quality and wilderness preservation.
The forest includes Cave Run and Laurel River Lakes, the Red River Gorge Geological Area, Natural Arch Scenic Area, the Clifty Wilderness and several wildlife-management areas.
"For the past 75 years, the Daniel Boone National Forest has helped provide our nation with a sustainable supply of natural resources, clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and tremendous recreation opportunities," Beum said.
Some local officials complain that the forest erodes the local tax base because the federal government pays a fee in lieu of taxes, but they acknowledge the Daniel Boone also brings in money and creates jobs through tourism, logging and other activities.
Recreation tied to the forest generates an estimated $34 million annually, Beum said.
Environmental groups have argued at times that the Forest Service placed too much emphasis on commercial logging, at the expense of environmental concerns.
The government's approach has improved in recent years, but the Forest Service still focuses too much on harvesting timber in a way it thinks will improve the forest, rather than using less intrusive methods to improve the overall ecology, said Jim Scheff, a forest ecologist who works with Kentucky Heartwood.
Beum, however, said logging is designed to improve wildlife habitat and the health of the forest.
He might differ with the Forest Service on its timber decisions, Scheff said, but there is no disagreement on what the forest means to Kentucky and the nation.
"It's absolutely fantastic," Scheff said. "It's an unparalleled resource."