HARLAN – A new equestrian trail in Harlan County in southeastern Kentucky will connect to Cumberland Gap National Park, first lady Jane Beshear announced Thursday. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, Kentucky Division of Water, the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and the Harlan County Fiscal Court reached an agreement that will allow officials in Harlan County to develop the state’s latest adventure tourism opportunity, which will be called the Brush Mountain Trail.
“This is an excellent example of state and local agencies working together to develop another outstanding adventure tourism destination for Kentuckians and our guests,” Beshear said in a state press release.
“The Brush Mountain Trail development adds to the existing wide range of first-rate tourism venues in this region and will help to increase the number of tourists to the area and boost local economies.”
The planned nine-mile long trail will connect Harlan County to Cumberland Gap National Park, which already boasts an expansive system of equestrian and hiking trails. Officials hope the trail will attract equestrian tourists from all over the region.
“This is a beautiful place for riding and hiking and will help bring more tourists to this area,” said Tourism, Arts and Heritage Secretary Marcheta Sparrow. “I’m glad our agency and the others could reach an agreement to help get this trail developed.”
The trail will follow the historic route of Sherman Hensley, who moved supplies up and down the Cumberland Mountain range to and from Hensley Settlement, an early 1900s settlement preserved by the National Park Service. Along the way, travelers will pass through Martins Fork Wildlife Management Area and State Natural Area and Shillalah Creek Wildlife Management Area.
The idea for the trail sparked on the local level and has received support statewide.
“In 2004, several citizens came to my office and spoke to us about creating horse trails,” said Harlan Judge-Executive Josesph Grieshop. “When Gov. Beshear was elected and first lady Jane Beshear had interest in horse trails, our opportunity came about.”
State and local government officials worked together for more than two years planning the trail system before signing a memorandum of agreement between agencies. Harlan Fiscal Court will soon begin to develop the trail in cooperation with state agencies.
"This is very good news for all the folks who like to ride horses and enjoy the beauty of our area,” said Rep. Rick Nelson, of Middlesboro.
Officials expect to open the equestrian trail to users during the first half of 2012.