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Weekend Wanderings

Reliving the 1800s

  Two hundred and fifty years ago, Dr. Thomas Walker discovered Cumberland
Gap. In the ensuing years, more than 400,000 people used it as the gateway to
the west-exploring, settling, hunting, and trapping the land. They built homes
and refuge forts, farmsteads, and towns. 

  A growing number of Kentuckians emulate these early pioneers as participants
in living-history hobbies. The goal is to re-create the lifestyles of 18th- and
early 19th-century explorers, settlers, longhunters, and fur traders. They wear
the clothing of that time period, and use only such equipment and gear as would
have been available then.

  Living historians pursue this hobby on many levels. As individuals or in
small groups, for instance, they might make hunting or trapping trips. Our group,
for example, makes at least one period-proper beaver trapping outing each year.
A subgroup-called trekkers-engage in what can be thought of as primitive backpacking.
Dressed in their early day togs and carrying all they will need on their persons,
they walk the very hills and trails that Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton followed.

  The bulk of participants, however, attend rendezvous and re-enactments.
Here, in camps of as few as five tents or as many as 500, they gather to live
the lifestyles they portray. You can join them, as either a visitor or participant.

  What’s the difference between a rendezvous and re-enactment? A rendezvous
is a gathering of the clans, as it were. Anyone re-creating a North American lifestyle
between 1650 and 1840 is welcome. Why those dates? For historians, 1650 is the
start of the North American exploration period (even though it actually began
sooner). And 1840 is the official end of the Rocky Mountain fur trade. 

  Re-enactments, on the other hand, are devoted to the portrayal of a specific
historical event. For instance, the Battle of Blue Licks, the last official battle
of the American Revolution, would be a re-enactment. The camp associated with
it usually is confined to the same time period as the event being re-created.  

  It’s easy to take part in these living-history events. Most of them are
open to visitors, and you can see what it’s like to portray life as it was. Many
times, if you wish to get more closely involved, there are traders available who
can set you up with a basic outfit. But if nothing else, you can learn what you
need to have for the next event, and find out where to buy it or make it.

  Don’t underrate that last. Most buckskinners-the generic name for those
following this hobby-make more of their clothing and gear than they purchase.

  If you have followed these historic events in the past, you should note
there have been some changes. Two cancellations of significance are the Woodbury
Rifle Frolic and the Siege of Boonesborough. There are still plenty to choose
from, though, both here in Kentucky and neighboring states. Here are just some
of the upcoming living-history events in our immediate region:

Brotherhood of Free Trappers annual rendezvous: April 14-16 at Kleber WMA. This
is the unofficial start of the rendezvous season in Kentucky. It’s a pre-1840
event, and includes several shooting competitions. Contact: Carl King, 1120 Dry
Ridge Rd., Dry Ridge, KY 41035, (606) 428-2217.

  Little Mountain Muzzleloaders spring rendezvous: May 19-21 at the club
grounds in Mt. Sterling. Little Mountain is a relatively new club trying to attract
living historians as well as competitive shooters. Contact: Wayne Robison, 7555
Papp Lane, Mt. Sterling, KY 40353, (606) 498-7190.

  Carlisle 2000 encampment: May 27-29 at Clay WMA near Carlisle. Part of
the Nicholas County bicentennial celebration, this will be a major one-time event,
with a full encampment, shooting competition, and re-enactment of the kidnapping
of the Boone and Callaway girls. Contact: Jimmie Joe Mitchell, 1007 Stoney Creek
Rd., Carlisle, KY 40311, (606) 289-4541.

  Bucksnort Long Rifles rendezvous: June 30-July 4 at their facility in Elizabethtown.
Another club event, this one is of long standing with camp and shooting competitions.
Contact: Joe Bishop, 111 Frank St., Elizabethtown, KY 42701, (270) 765-6365.

  Battle of Blue Licks re-enactment and encampment: August 18-20 at Blue
Licks Battlefield State Resort Park. Still going strong after nearly 20 years,
this annual re-enactment is a must-attend event for serious re-enactors and many
visitors who return year after year. Contact: Jimmie Joe Mitchell, 1007 Stoney
Creek Rd., Carlisle, KY 40311, (606) 289-4541.

  Precontact archeology weekend: September 22-23 at Red River Gorge Gladie
Visitor’s Center. Another ongoing event, re-enactors demonstrate the Native American
crafts and skills as they were practiced before, and just at the start of, European
contact.  Everything from primitive cooking, to making brain-tanned leather,
to building a dug-out canoe can be seen firsthand at this annual event. Contact:
District Supervisor, Stanton District, Daniel Boone National Forest, 705 West
College Ave., Stanton, KY 40380, (606) 663-2852.

Day Trips & Short Stops

Raven Run Nature Sanctuary

  April in the Bluegrass is synonymous with wildflowers. There are nearly
400 species of wildings found in Kentucky. Although some of them bloom almost
anytime, April is the peak season for watching wildflowers.

  Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, about 12 miles from Lexington, is one of the
peak wildflower-watching locales. More than 300 species bloom in this 374-acre
park that also encompasses one of only three undeveloped limestone gorges in the
state. Once the plants start flowering, you are likely to find as many as 30 species
blooming at once. But they do so in succession; if you return a week or two later,
there will still be 30 varieties, but not necessarily the same ones.

  A series of hiking trails-many of them following paths laid out by early
settlers-brings you to various points of natural and human history, including
an overlook sitting atop the Kentucky River Palisades. Each trail is lined with
one colorful flower after another. In fact, we would class Raven Run as the number-one
wildflower park in the Commonwealth.

  Trails vary in length from one-half mile to about four miles, and interconnect
so you can create as long a hike as you wish-as long as eight miles without retracing
your footsteps. The Red Trail, longest in the park, takes you through every natural
habitat found in the area. Other trails intersect the Red Trail, if you want to
create a loop hike of your own. Or you can merely follow these shorter trails
out and back.

  There’s even a special barrier-free trail: 0.6 miles of paved path accessible
to wheelchairs, strollers, and the visually impaired. This walking path, tagged
“freedom trail,” passes through field, forest, and creek ecosystems, and includes
interpretive signs, handrails, benches, and a white line for the visually impaired.
Grade never exceeds 8 percent.

  Trail maps, along with other information, is available in the nature center
found about a quarter of a mile from the parking lot. A variety of hands-on displays
and exhibits of native flora and fauna can be found at the nature center as well.

  On the way to it, you’ll pass a bird blind that is open to your use for
viewing and photographing many of the birds that call Raven Run home. Strategically
placed bird feeders assure good viewing at any time of day, but early morning
and late afternoon are the best viewing times.

  And remember, this is a nature preserve. Stay on the trails at all times.
Do not pick flowers or gather artifacts. In short, follow the backpacker’s credo:
take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.

  For operating hours and info about special events, contact: Raven Run Nature
Sanctuary, 5888 Jacks Creek Pike, Lexington, KY 40515, (606) 272-6105.

Outdoor Log

Slabs of spring

  For Bluegrass anglers, there are several rites of spring. For some, it’s
the white bass runs on rivers like the Salt and Dix. For others, it’s the walleye
that leave the big impoundments to spawn in running water. For still others, it’s
the first fly-caught trout in the plunging headwaters of eastern Kentucky.

  But for the majority of fishermen, the slab crappie of April mark the beginning
of the fishing season. And the place to find them best is Lake Barkley, the eastern
anchor of Land Between the Lakes.

  “You can use any color, as long as it’s white,” Randel Taylor says, as
his rod bends to the weight of another slab. Taylor, owner of Eddy Bay Lodging
near Eddyville, is one of the best crappie guides we know. While other techniques
work, he feels a 3/8-ounce round-head jig with white twister tail is the recipe
for big papermouths. The big stringers he and his clients consistently bring in
are proof enough that his method works.

  Last time we fished with him, we’d barely drifted away from the dock at
his landing when a 16-inch crappie hit. Over the next few hours, one thick-bodied
crappie after another fell for his rig.

But it’s not just the rig. It’s how you fish it. “Let the jig fall to the bottom,
if possible,” the guide points out. “Then walk it up through the brush in 8 to
12 feet of water."

  Taylor, himself, is a line watcher. “If the line even twitches,” he insists,
“set the hook. This is especially important as the jig sinks, because crappie
often hit it on the fall.”

  Best crappie fishing on Lake Barkley, he says, is from February to the
end of May, with March and April being the peak months. Typical crappie are 10-14
inches, and there are enough in the 15- to 17-inch range to keep anyone happy. 

  Eddy Bay Lodging offers lodging and boat rentals. There is no restaurant
on-site, however, so plan on either preparing your own meals or driving to Eddyville,
about five miles away.

  For more information or to book guide service, contact: Eddy Bay Lodging,
75 Forest Glen Dr., Eddyville, KY 42038, (270) 388-9960.

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