Land which was formerly owned by the Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Development Authority was recently purchased by the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation — a non-profit organization aimed at educating the public on ecosystems in the mountains.
A portion of the land was formerly used as the Wilderness Trail Off-Road Park, which had a successful run as a weekend hot-spot for ATV enthusiasts and campers. In total, the AWF will cover 12,000 acres or approximately 19 square miles.
Construction will soon begin to improve preexisting roads so that construction on the education center can begin in the fall of 2017. Local residents may also notice elk relocation beginning this fall.
“We want the center to be like a combination of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Cades Cove drive in the Smoky Mountains. When it’s all done, visitors can expect a loop road drive where they can see elk, deer and bears,” said AWF President and CEO David Ledford. “You’ll be driving through spectacular, beautiful country and seeing these animals, picnic shelters, hiking trails, interpretive signs to explain the geologic forces, as well as how reclamation works with old coal mines.”
Ledford believes this will be a multi-day experience for families to vacation and learn about Appalachian wildlife.
“We want this to be a five-star experience that will take more than a day to go through and see everything. Family fun is the goal while also giving guests a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these animals in their habitat,” said Ledford.
He suggested that developers are trying to pack an educational opportunity into every part of the park. Parking lots will have signs to teach visitors about the birds they are seeing and the sounds they hear.
“A lot of work has gone into doing the tourism projections over a year and a half. We’ve worked with both the Beshear and Bevin administration and anticipate more than 630,000 visitors in just the first 5 years,” said Ledford.
The AWF is working on educational partnerships with Eastern Kentucky University, Union College, University of Kentucky, Lincoln Memorial University and Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College for teaching opportunities, development and research opportunities in the fields of hotel and tourism management, resource management and wildlife management, to name a few.
The project is projected to open in July of 2019.
Reach Kelsey Gerhardt at 606-302-9093 or on Twitter @kgerhardtmbdn.