A win for wild on Pine Mountain

The north face of Pine Mountain.
The north face of Pine Mountain. Kentucky Natural Lands Trust

Wild places are good for people and for animals. Believe it or not, they can also be very good for the economy and, without question, they are good for this battered Earth we inhabit.

So, good for us that the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust recently notched another landmark in its effort to preserve Pine Mountain, that wild and ancient place stretching along the state’s southeastern boundary. KNLT announced that it has purchased almost 2,000 acres of Pine Mountain in Harlan and Letcher counties.

The acreage provides important links to already-protected areas. It connects to the Kingdom Come State Park and Hensley-Pine Mountain Wildlife Management Area, creating a protected forest tract of 7,000 acres. It also forms a 6,000-acre protected forest tract by connecting the E. Lucy Braun State Park Nature Preserve and the Kentenia State Forest.

With this purchase, more than 40 percent of Pine Mountain, which includes 180,000 acres that span about 125 miles from Tennessee through Kentucky and into Virginia, is protected and with it the hundreds of species, many of them rare, that either live there or migrate through it. These include the American black bear and three cubs caught on video by a trail camera in September. The species had all but disappeared from Kentucky due to hunting and habitat loss but has made its way back in through the thousands of protected acres in Pine Mountain.

Pine Mountain is home to the headwaters of the Kentucky, Big Sandy and Cumberland rivers, which feed into the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. So, protecting this mountain system means protecting the quality of water millions drink, that’s home to fish and other species, and irrigates hundreds of thousands of acres of crops downstream.

We can all, literally, breathe easier knowing another 2,000 acres of this rare and precious place will be preserved.

Pine Mountain is also a critical link in the Great Eastern Trail, which when complete will extend 1,800 miles from New York to Alabama. This purchase makes it possible to finish about half of the Kentucky portion of that epic hike.

These things don’t just fall into place. KNLT Executive Director Hugh Archer said he worked for 18 years on this acquisition, talking many, many times with Kentucky River Properties, the company that had owned it for 80 years. The final transaction involved 27 parcels and cost $2.4 million.

This dedication is always welcome and impressive but is more important than ever now, a time when the United States and individual states are scaling back on investment in public lands.

We can all, literally, breathe easier knowing another 2,000 acres of this rare and precious place will be preserved.

But gratitude alone is not enough. Financial support for KNLT’s efforts to preserve Kentucky’s wild places is important, as is reminding state and national legislators that in protecting wild places they are protecting all life.