Whitesburg KY
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Tourism group buys 833 acres of land in and around Jenkins

A foundation formed to promote tourism in Letcher County has purchased 833 acres around the City of Jenkins, including Raven Rock, the old Pine Mountain Tunnel, and a large portion of land in the viewshed of Pine Mountain Trail.

EKY Heritage Foundation Inc. paid Pike Elkhorn Land Company $400,000 for the land, which lies on the northwest slope of Pine Mountain between the city on one side, and US 23 and the Virginia state line on the other. The money was provided by a donor who wished to remain anonymous, the foundation said.

The EKY Foundation was formed by Missy Matthews, who is chief executive officer of Childers Oil and chairwoman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, L.M. “Mike” Caudill, who is an attorney and CEO of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, Angie Hatton, an attorney and state representative, County Extension Agent Shad Baker, and Letcher County School Superintendent Denise Yonts. It is also working on a shooting sports resort at Sandlick, just north of the Whitesburg city limits.

The foundation has a $3 million grant to begin work on that site, and is in the process of closing out an old mining permit on the property. Matthews said that work had been at a standstill because of COVID-19, but is now “moving along nicely.”

Matthews said this week that the foundation will hire a consultant to determine what can be done on the Jenkins property.

“At this point there are no official plans, but we are having fun dreaming. Our first step is to hire a specialist with experience in hospitality and outdoor tourism to evaluate available land and assets as well as determine its best use,” Matthews said. “This is a very special opportunity and we want to get it right. We will not take for granted the natural beauty and view that this property gives us. We want to honor the property while also doing our best for Jenkins, the county and the region.”

The City of Jenkins had been trying to get TECO Coal Co. and Pike Letcher Land Company to donate the property to it for years, but had been unsuccessful. The company filed bankruptcy and earlier this year transferred its assets to Pike Elkhorn as part of the bankruptcy. Pike Elkhorn sold the land to the foundation.

“TECO would give us enough of an easement to get to the top of the mountain,” Jenkins Mayor Todd Depriest said, referring to TECO Coal, which pulled out of Jenkins several years ago.

When the company sold, the new owner said the donation of the land was not in its business plan.

Depriest said he met with the foundation this week to talk about the land.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to move forward with any trails or grants, or adventure tourism opportunities,” Depriest said. “Also, to develop opportunities to use the caves and overlooks and possible plans to use the interstate train tunnel.”

He said in July that the city was looking at using the old Mount Sterling to Pound Gap Road, also known as the Pete Castle Highway, as a trail to get to the top of the mountain. The city already has a preliminary design done by a consultant from Missouri.

The old road, which is just below US 23, appears to be on the map attached to the deed for the property purchased by the foundation. The city had been trying to determine if the state of Kentucky might already hold a right of way for the old road.

“They call it the wagon road,” Depriest said. “It was the road they used to bring in supplies when they were building Jenkins.”

Originally a series of Native American trails, the road was first surveyed in 1817, and was one of the first state roads in Kentucky, with the General Assembly appropriating $2,400 in 1824 and $23,000 in 1837 to work on it. It was the main road settlers used to drive hogs and cattle to market in Virginia, and parts of it are still visible along the side of Pine Mountain below U.S. 23.

Depriest said the city is still working on that issue and on other trails, and would like to see the Pine Mountain Trail opened all the way to Cumberland Gap.

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