Mammoth Cave, Barren County KY

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Cave Region group wants to create trail towns

Caves Rivers Trails Initiative


Posted: Tuesday, June 30, 2015 3:00 am

BY GINA KINSLOW Glasgow Daily Times

CAVE CITY — A few members of the Cave Region Trails Initiative Steering Committee reviewed on Monday night a rough draft of a grant application the organization will be submitting to the National Park Service next month.

The committee hopes to secure administrative support from NPS to create a master plan it can use as a guide in connecting trails in and around 11 cities in the region.

“The ultimate goal is to make 11 Trail Towns,” said Sharon Tabor, executive director of the Cave City Tourism and Convention Commission.

According to the Kentucky Office of Adventure Tourism, a trail town is a destination along a lengthy trail or is adjacent to a trail.

On Monday night, the steering committee members edited the six-page grant application, making additions and deletions where needed.

Among those who turned out to help with the editing process was Ginny Grulke with Lexington-based Kentucky Back Country Horsemen, which has a local chapter in the Mammoth Cave area called Mammoth Cave Back Country Horsemen.

“I think it’s great,” Grulke said about the initiative, after the meeting. “We’ve found in the last two years (that) the interest in trails has just exploded around the state. Because of our small counties, the more regional you get, the better.”

She continued to explain that a trail doesn’t necessarily stop at a county boundary, and therefore that’s why the regional effort to connect all 11 cities is so important.

Ann Stewart, marketing director for the Glasgow-Barren County Tourist and Convention Commission, also attended the meeting and helped with the editing process.



A Bike Tour of Eastern Kentucky‘s Back Roads


Ale-8-One is a ginger-ale-like soda usually sold in glass bottles and popular in the hills of eastern Kentucky. During a bike trip through the region last month, for example, I washed down a burger with one on the back porch of a bed-and-breakfast owned by a man who once walked more than 3,000 miles across America on stilts. The next night, I blasted another out of the crook of a tree branch with a 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson.

I rarely drink soda and I’m not into guns. But what’s the point of travel if not to have new and sometimes discomforting experiences?

Eastern Kentucky, Appalachian coal country, was, in truth, a rather random destination, the result of browsing the routes plied by Megabus and realizing I could get to nearby Lexington from New York for only $63, round trip. (Warning: the bus trip is far from direct and took me a total of 17 hours on the road, with two connections.) As my method of transit within the state, I chose a bicycle. Bikes are the most social form of of transportation; people wave to you, and you can stop in anywhere to fill a water bottle or charge a phone. Though Kentucky has plenty of beautiful scenery, my hope was that this trip would be about people. Bring on the discomfort.

After some emails and phone calls with two avid Lexington cyclists — Randy Thomas, president of the Bluegrass Cycling Club, and Allen Kirkwood of the nonprofit Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop — I had a four-day, 160-mile back roads route through a bit of bluegrass country, best known for its horses and bourbon, and then east into the hills. I would pass by Red River Gorge in Daniel Boone National Forest, and tiny towns with nary a restaurant or motel before picking up about 20 miles of a new bike and horse path, the Dawkins Line Rail Trail. It ends near a small town called Paintsville, which happens to be home to a rare Enterprise Rent-a-Car office that could get me back to Lexington and my return bus.

But first, the bike. At Scheller’s Fitness and Cycling in Lexington, a Trek Domane 4.3 was $160 for up to a week. Once I had wended my way out of the city, things got scenic fast: car-free country lanes lined with deep-brown, four-rail fences enclosing lush pastures dotted with horses that barely moved in the heat. It felt like riding through a painting, until a horse’s tail whisked away a fly or a wind gust rustled a tree.

A couple of hours in, things began to change. Horses gave way to cows, fences got shabbier, the paint on homes more weathered. And I finally began to encounter people, as in the tiny, worn center of North Middletown, population 650 or so, where I stopped at a gas station and convenience store that was — typically, I would later learn — the lone source of action in town. I treated myself to a soft ice cream ($1.69) and asked a man sitting outside what was going on. “Nothing,” he said. “People are either on welfare or on drugs.”

Back on my bike, I headed through a route dotted with barns. Slender gaps in the boards of one older barn created a strobe effect as I rode past. Outside another, dozens of goats lounged in the shade, only to scatter as I approached, as had horses earlier in the trip.

Thirty-odd miles later, after an unfussy $9.99 catfish dinner at Kathy’s Country Kitchen in Clay City, I checked into the nondescript Abner Motel ($60 for the night), expecting to collapse on my bed. However, Mexican ranchera music was playing in the parking lot and I wandered out to inquire. A mostly Latino group of workers on a local gas pipeline was occupying a row of rooms, and had set up a barbecue.

A Texas-born Mexican-American gave me a Corona and pointed me toward the grill; Salvadoran immigrants from Tallahassee, Fla., talked about the time they had worked on a Nantucket golf course where Bill Clinton played; and a burly West Virginia ironworker named Jim urged me to try his co-worker’s freshly made salsa. Jim also tried to give me a tutorial on the use of white bread as a leak-stopper for cracked PVC pipe. Ah, people. So much more welcoming than horses or goats.

With a lack of lodging along upcoming stretches of my route, I was to stay the next night just six miles ahead (plus the loop through the national forest), at a bed-and-breakfast. At $110, it was way over my budget, but Randy and Allen, the two bike experts, insisted that I was not to miss the character who owned it: Joe Bowen, a retired construction worker, political activist, inveterate storyteller and Kentucky booster. His local bona fides were strong, to wit, his Bowen Farm Bed & Breakfast is at 315 Bowen Road, in Bowen, Ky., and his family has been in the region since the 1700s. A widower, he built the house using parts he had salvaged in the demolition of old country estates.

Joe had extraordinary energy. He made the beds, cooked breakfast, booked reservations and entertained his guests, which in this case meant me and the six-person Olnick family, who had been vacationing at Joe’s for years. Randy and Allen had told him about me, so my cover had been blown, and I thought I might be given special treatment. It was his regulars who got it.

In just the day I was there, he repeatedly pushed the youngest Olnick, Addison, on a swing and held a barbecue and joint birthday party for himself (he turned 72) and the Olnick’s oldest daughter, Kearstin (14). (This was where I tried the Ale-8-One.) They treated Joe like a grandfather, and he spoiled them as though he was one.

That day, after I had biked into some challenging hills in the Red River Gorge Geological Area, Joe met me in his truck (with two of the Olnick kids in tow) to show me some views of the forested gorge and its sandstone cliffs, popular among climbers. These included views of two of the 100-plus natural bridges the area is perhaps best known for. I questioned whether Joe would do this for all his guests, but the stories he told at Sky Bridge and Angel Windows were so smooth and practiced it was obvious I was far from the first to hear them.

In fact, his stories never stopped. How he had maneuvered to have the founder of a local children’s home carry the Olympic torch. How he had walked from Los Angeles to Bowen on stilts, and later traveled across the country by bike. How he got a statue built of his favorite Kentucky leader, Bert Combs, who was governor from 1959 to 1963. And then there was the time he made the newspaper, by accusing a prominent architect of stealing ideas for a building in downtown Lexington from the Sphinx.

I’d miss all this hospitality during the following two-day stretch of my trip, with 85 miles to Paintsville and nowhere to sleep in between.

I started again early Sunday morning, riding past barns decorated with colorful quilt patterns, flower-covered graves in tiny family cemeteries, Civil War plaques (Kentucky was a famously divided border state), and, occasionally, shops that could have passed for tourist attractions, like Bea’s Bee Hive in Hazel Green, a former general store turned into something between a yard sale and an antiques shop, open only on weekends.

What were really missing were lunch options, which were limited mostly to Hunt Brothers Pizza at gas stations. That problem was solved at the tiny, whitewashed Country Side Community Church along a meandering stretch of Route 134. I was attracted by the “Everyone welcome” sign, handwritten on blistered white paint, and headed in, hoping to have a glimpse inside, a friendly conversation or, who knows, a lead on a place to sleep. Instead I found a meal — there was plenty of spaghetti and meat sauce in the kitchen left over from play rehearsal for an upcoming bible camp — heard from the family that had so kindly invited me in about how the church was founded by a missionary from New York, and admired their “tarpin,” which is how they pronounced terrapin.



By 5:30 or so, I had reached the Dawkins Line Rail Trail, but I found it was gravel and not bike-friendly. Wondering about a potential alternative route, I stopped at yet another gas station, the Parkway Convenient Mart, for some assistance.

This one was different. At the counter, homemade Kentucky cream candy (a melt-in-your-mouth local treat) was on sale in plastic baggies for $3, and people gathered by an out-of-place communal table near the soda machine. They were members of the Marsillett family, owners of the store. The road would take me to Paintsville, they said, but they doubted I could make it there before dark.

So they made me an offer: I could stay in one of the family’s hunting cabins, set deep in the woods amid their hundreds of acres. Minutes later I was hanging out with Kevin, 19, and his cousins, Cody, 14, and Jordan, 10, at their pool. The family was obviously well-off, at least in local terms: The house was huge, and in addition to owning the gas station, the family bred hunting dogs and owned a metal scrapyard. And raised goats, who stared down at us from a small bluff as we dropped down the water slide.

Kevin, Cody and Jordan seemed to be tickled by the presence of an urban guest; they showed me the house’s “man-cave” (a sign labeled it as such), where camouflage furniture prevailed and hunting trophies covered the walls. Cody told me they had once adopted a sick bobcat. “You’re the first family I’ve ever met to have a bobcat,” I told him.

He corrected me: “We’ve had two.”

The boys took me to two safes in the master bedroom, where the family’s huge gun collection was stored. The arsenal included collector’s items like an intriguing double-barrel shotgun with a separate trigger for each barrel and a pink gun, “for Mom.”

We jolted up an impossibly rutted, rock-filled hill in the family’s side-by-side ATV, with Cody at the wheel. Nobody but me buckled his seatbelt. The cabin, really a Lowe’s tool shed with pieces cut out and windows installed, was perched on a platform high off the ground, deep in the woods. Night was falling.

“This would be a good place to kill someone,” said Kevin, and then looked to see if he had scared me. Inside was a cot, a stove and a half-dozen buzzing wasp nests. Cody burned them with a stove lighter and killed any escapees with his baseball hat.

Later that night, after a pizza from the gas station, we headed back to the cabin for the evening’s activity: target practice. They placed an Ale-8-One bottle horizontally in the nook of a tree, and handed over the Smith & Wesson pistol. (I should note here that I have used guns before and know the basics, so this was not as insane as it sounds.) Bam! I knocked off the whole bottom of the bottle with the first shot, though the top stayed put and I proceeded to miss it entirely, six shots in a row.

The night was calm, except for a sting from a half-dead wasp that I missed on the cot. I thanked everyone the next morning and took the road into the hills, reaching Paintsville by about 11 a.m. It turned out I could have made it the night before, but I was glad I hadn’t tried. My motel in Paintsville was quiet and anonymous. The Marsillett family experience had been anything but.

A version of this article appears in print on July 12, 2015, on page TR8 of the New York edition with the headline: Open Doors Along Back Roads.


State approves $250,000 loan for Cave City attraction

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 9:30 am


A Louisville man who wants to purchase a Cave City attraction received a $250,000 loan from the state Tuesday.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approved a $250,000 loan from the Kentucky Tourism Development Loan Program to Land of Tomorrow Productions by a 3-0 vote. Land of Tomorrow Productions is the Louisville-based entity involved in the purchase of Cave City’s Guntown Mountain.

Will Russell, proprietor of WHY Louisville and founder of Lebowski Fest, was the applicant contact for the loan, according to the application obtained by the Daily News. Russell, who intends to turn Guntown Mountain into Funtown Mountain, said he was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

It is a 15-year loan at 6 percent, said Gil Lawson, executive director of the office of communications at the KTDFA. “The loan does not go through until after they close on the property,” Lawson said.

Russell said the closing date is set for March 31.

Representatives from Land of Tomorrow Productions presented the proposal for Funtown Mountain to the KTDFA, of which four of the board’s seven members were present. The board went into closed session to discuss confidential financial information, Lawson said. Three of the four members voted – the chairman does not vote unless there is a tie.

All financial information, including source of equity, was redacted from the application. Certain amounts in inventory valuation from WHY Louisville Inc. and equity against a house in Louisville are listed on the application as collateral offered for the project.

The market value of the property before liens was established Jan. 27 as $1 million, according to the application. Guntown Mountain includes more than a dozen buildings on 28 acres.

The proposed timeline of the project begins with a groundbreaking April 1 and a gradual opening of other operations between June and the end of the year, including a gift shop, cafe, Haunted Hotel, putt-putt, saloon, museum and road completion according to the application. A grand opening is proposed for June 1, 2016.

Upon closing, “Land of Tomorrow Productions LLC will be the names lessee on the existing lease to the 28 acres divided in three tracts until 2049,” according to the application. The lease is still under negotiation, and “intended agreement may involve a sublease for Hillbilly Tea Shack in the space next to the gift shop with 5-10 year term with a revenue sharing with Land of Tomorrow Productions,” according to the application.

Tourco Inc. is the current licensee of Guntown Mountain. JB Enterprises of Cave City owns all 100 shares of stock of Tourco Inc.

Russell’s plans for the longtime roadside attraction include a new zipline and a new sound system and lights in the Lucky Lady Saloon. Russell also wants to turn the Opera House into a theater with hologram capabilities that would allow him to project performances of musicians, comedians and actors onto the stage. Russell has plans for a pop culture museum on the property that would include a prop from the film “Big Trouble in Little China” and a wax figure wearing Col. Harland Sanders’ trademark white suit.

Russell intends to replace the cowboys and gunfights from Guntown Mountain with clowns as part of the Funtown Mountain image.

“The missions of Funtown Mountain are to bring jobs and commerce to Cave City, elevate the reputation of Kentucky and offer affordable amusements for families,” according to the application.

Other than WHY Louisville and Lebowski Fest, Russell has attempted other attraction events. Pee Wee Over Louisville, founded in 2012, was meant to be an event that celebrated the Paul Reubens character Pee-Wee Herman. The event was canceled and was never affiliated with Reubens, according to the event’s Facebook page, which has 4,056 Likes. An article on and in The Courier-Journal in 2013 that was linked from the Facebook page states that Russell received a cease and desist letter from Reubens requesting that the event be canceled.

Russell also had plans to build an attraction called Kentucky Rushmore, which was conceived as a fake mountain with the faces of famous Kentuckians on it, according to the Kentucky Rushmore Facebook page. The mountain didn’t come to fruition, but a mural of Kentucky Rushmore – with the faces of Muhammad Ali, Abraham Lincoln, Sanders and Secretariat – is painted on the side of WHY Louisville’s building.

— Follow business beat reporter Monica Spees on Twitter at or visit


Photographs will be displayed in Cave City Ky





The Cave City Tourist and Convention Commission and Western Kentucky University’s Kentucky Library will present a display of historic Cave City photographs from the early 1900s at the Cave City Convention Center, 502 Mammoth Cave St., and the Cave City Visitor Center, 418 Mammoth Cave St.

The William R. Reynolds Jr. photographs are printed from glass plate negatives donated to WKU by descendants Kate and Dale Covington.

The convention center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. The visitor center is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The photographs will be displayed through March.


How Mammoth Cave Was Formed

History: How Mammoth Cave Was Formed

The underground wonderland of spectacular Mammoth Cave was formed, and is still being formed, as limestone, also called calcium carbonate, dissolves in water seeping through the ground.

This phenomenon is usually found where caves occur. Underneath the topsoil on the hills of southern Kentucky, there are two layers of stone. The upper is a sandstone cap that is 50 feet thick in some places. Like an umbrella, it covers the lower layer, a series of limestone ridges.

At places called sinkholes, surface water is able to penetrate the upper sandstone umbrella. As the water works its way downward, the limestone is eroded, forming the honeycomb of underground passageways, amphitheaters, and rooms that make up Mammoth Cave.

Many of the cave’s internal features, such as stalagmites, stalactites, and columns, were formed this way. These formations build at the rate of about one cubic inch every 100 to 200 years.

Mammoth Cave History: Inhabitants and Exploration
People have been crawling through and living in the cave since prehistoric times. Anthropologists believe that Native Americans first discovered the great cave about 4,000 years ago. To light their way in the intense underground darkness, they fashioned torches from bundles of cane like that which still grows nearby. Charred remnants of these ancient torches have been found miles inside the cave in chambers lined with thousands upon thousands of gypsum crystals in myriad shapes. Apparently, these crystals were highly valued by the early spelunkers.

Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation in Mammoth Cave dating back 4,000 years.
©2006 National Park Service
Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation
in Mammoth Cave dating back 4,000 years.

The cave also holds ancient footprints, undisturbed for centuries, as well as bits of clothing and abandoned sandals. Three miles from the cave entrance, the mummified body of a gypsum miner who died some 2,000 years ago has been discovered. He was crushed to death by a five-ton boulder. The man’s body and his clothing are perfectly preserved.

Mammoth Cave was first discovered by white pioneers in the late 1790s, and guides have been leading astonished tourists through it ever since. During the War of 1812, the cave was mined near its entrance. Slaves did most of the work, filling large leaching vats with dirt and rock from the cave. The potassium or calcium nitrate crystals produced by this operation — also called saltpeter — were used to make gunpowder.

One of the earliest guides, Stephen Bishop, aptly described the cave as “grand, gloomy, and peculiar.” He was a slave of the man who bought the cave in the 1830s, hoping to develop it as a major tourist attraction. Bishop explored and mapped many of the cave’s rooms and passages. His assessment of the cave is almost as accurate today as it was 160 years ago. Park officials still do not overlight the cave’s interior, guaranteeing that visitors never lose the feeling that they are deep within the earth.

Visiting Mammoth Cave National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The geology of this great cave has inspired awe in people for thousands of years.