Op-Ed

Fix up Cumberland Falls State Park

At one time, Cumberland Falls State Park was the most visited of the parks in the state. But due to the poorly maintained Daniel Boone National Forest — through which those visiting the Falls via Interstate 71, U.S. 25W and KY 90 must travel — it is no surprise the number of visitors has declined.

Also, the grounds of the park property are almost unattractive since the trees downed by a tornado a few years ago have not been removed.

Gov. Steve Beshear should see if he could sell Cumberland Falls to the national park system, which could demand forest improvements and have more money to keep up the property and better promote it.

Cumberland Falls is more than just "Niagara of the South," it is one of two falls in the whole world that has a moonbow, created when moonlight hits the water, with the other being Victoria Falls in Africa.

The park likely would not have existed had it not been for former Kentucky Gov. Edwin P. Morrow, the Kentucky General Assembly, the Cumberland Falls Preservation Association and Louisville native and Delaware's U.S. senator, Thomas Coleman DuPont.

In 1924, Chicago's Midwest Utilities organized the Cumberland River Power Company to build a hydroelectric dam about one-half mile upstream from the Falls. With the dam's construction, the flow of the Cumberland River would have been diverted into a tunnel to power the electric hydroelectric generators. If that had come about, the falls world probably have deteriorated.

It was at about that time that DuPont offered to buy the falls and give it to the commonwealth as an animal preserve, bird sanctuary and park.

Kentucky's then-governor, Flem Sampson, favored the falls being sold to the Midwest Utilities, and he was against accepting the gift of $230,000. With the support of the Cumberland Falls Preservation Association, the General Assembly overrode Sampson's veto.

It was not long after the official acceptance of his gift that the senator died, and his family donated another $200,000 to pay for the 593 acres in the park, which was the seventh in Kentucky. DuPont was honored for his support by the naming of the park's lodge, the DuPont Lodge.

While I was growing up in Whitley City, my family took trips to DuPont Lodge. In the winter, we crossed the river above the falls on a ferry; in summer, with the river too low to support the ferry, we would ford the river.

The Corbin Kiwanis Club was responsible for an automobile road from Corbin to the falls. That route was completed in 1927, and along with building the road, the club built the first "dry land" bridge, located about five miles east of the falls.

During this time, the major route to see the falls was from Parkers Lake on US 27 in McCreary County. Visitors traveled to Parkers Lake by train and would ride to the falls in mule-drawn wagons.

I heard a good many stories about those wagon rides from my granddaddy, the late Matt Ballou, who operated one of the wagon traveling groups.

Attracting more modern-day visitors to the falls could also increase the numbers visiting nearby places of interest, including the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Corbin, the oldest continually played U.S. golf course at the Middlesboro Country Club and the Dr. Thomas Walker Park in Barbourville. Walker, the guardian of President Thomas Jefferson, was also a surveyor of what is Kentucky.

Along with the Middlesboro's historic golf course, many people are interested in seeing Kentucky's first town laid out on paper before actual construction was started, and they are also seeing the city built in a crater.

Many people enjoy visiting the Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park in London on the east side of the falls. On the McCreary County side, Stearns has a most interesting museum, and a delightful round-trip train ride is also based there. Also, McCreary County's Yahoo Falls is most delightful and impressive.

Tourism means much to the state and this region and it is a terrible shame the drive to Cumberland Falls State Park via KY 90 and the grounds of the park are in such poor condition.

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