Last month’s winter storm did heavy damage at Camp Blanton, including the destruction of one of its oldest cabins.
According to Dr. Murphy Green, chairman of a board of trustees that oversees the camp’s operations, the McDowell Cabin was destroyed when a snow-laden tree fell from the hillside onto its roof.
The tree has since been cut and its pieces hauled away. A work-release crew from the Harlan County Detention Center were at the site on Tuesday to help with the remaining cleanup work.
The cabin had been built by the Harlan Christian Church over 60 years ago and its renovation only a few years ago had been provided by board member and scout leader Darby Bennett.
The trustees met Wednesday evening to begin planning the replacement of the structure, which will be demolished in the coming days.
“This cabin has been very important to the camp and probably a few thousand kids have stayed in it over the years,” Green said, “but we have an immediate problem.
“Starting in June we have several groups of children, about 90 kids each, who are already scheduled and registered to use the camp for a week,” Green added. “We greatly need the cabin space. Without McDowell Cabin, we will be hard-pressed to accommodate them all.”
While groups generate some income to help support the camp’s operation, the Trustees are organizing a donation campaign, he said.
Trustees must find a way to fund a replacement cabin, create more level ground at the site, cut away other trees that continue to pose risks to this and other cabin sites, as well as expand the size of the new cabin to house more campers than McDowell could.
They also hope to generate enough support to help pay for insurance coverage they will be seeking for the structures now, he said.
“Because we don’t have steady income, we really haven’t been able to afford insurance,” Green said. The camp must also pay for water service from the Black Mountain Utility District and electric service for almost all the structures, he noted.
Camp Blanton Trust is a not-for-profit corporation and all donations to the organization are tax deductible, Green said. Those interested in making a donation can mail them to the trust at P.O. Box 931, Harlan, KY 40831.
“Camp Blanton remains in operation and the Trust itself exists because of great support from the people of Harlan County due to the love and affection we have for this land,” he added. “The damage left by the storm has just made our need urgent.
“We know how tough things are for everyone right now but we are hopeful our community will help us meet the need here.”
In addition to McDowell Cabin, the winter storm brought down several trees around the camp’s property that need to be removed. The heavy rains since the winter storm have also raised the water levels of the streams that feed the lake, making some of those tasks more difficult.
The storm also affected access into the surrounding forest. Over four miles of public hiking trails into Blanton Forest originate at the camp. Hikers park at Camp Blanton where a kiosk and signs direct visitors to the trailhead, the starting point for public access into Blanton Forest.
At 1,075 acres, it is the largest old-growth forest in Kentucky and the core of the 3,124-acre Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve. The preserve is open year round during daylight hours and is limited to foot travel only.
According to officials with the nature preserve, as one of 13 large old-growth tracts remaining in the eastern United States, Blanton Forest is a diverse ecological treasure. Many of the trees are three to four feet in diameter, and rise 100 feet above the forest floor. Several trees have been dated to the late 1600s.