Sunday, January 13, 2002

Patton proposes new state park

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — During his annual State of the Commonwealth address last week, Gov. Paul Patton proposed creating a 120-mile-long state park along the ridge of Pine Mountain in Letcher, Harlan and Bell counties.

        “It's the best idea I've heard in a long time,” said Don Dott of the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, which has five preserves on the mountain.

        The “linear state park” would stretch from Elkhorn City to Pineville and eventually connect with the 280-mile Cumberland Trail State Park being developed in Tennessee. About 30 percent of what would be Pine Mountain Trail State Park already is in public ownership as a state park, nature preserve, wildlife management area or national forest.

        Details were scarce Friday on how the rest would be obtained and what it would cost.

        The oil and gas industry has helped identify landowners, and many of them have agreed to give easements to the state, said Mike Haydon, deputy secretary of the governor's cabinet. For areas that would have to be purchased, Mr. Patton has mentioned asking for money from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, federal transportation funds or the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund.

        “The governor's concept is that once the legislation passed — if it passed — the folks in parks would begin to identify strategic portions,” Mr. Haydon said.

        Immediately after the governor's speech, House Speaker Jody Richards said he didn't think the park would be very expensive. Senate President David Williams disagreed, because, among other things, it would split some properties in half.

        “I would submit that it will be an expensive proposition,” Mr. Williams said.

        Mr. Patton has been contemplating the park for a while. In September, with a debate raging over whether gas drilling would be allowed in Breaks Interstate Park, Mr. Patton placed a moratorium on non-coal mining operations and ordered any gas or oil drilling permits in the area be reviewed to ensure they didn't harm eco-tourism.

        On Thursday, the governor modified that order to allow gravel and clay mining. But it still bans any disturbances within 500 feet of the mountain's crest.

        In 1998, volunteers formed the Pine Mountain Trail Conference to raise money. Hikers along the trail look down at Kentucky on one side, Virginia on the other.


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