It’s autumn and eastern Kentucky woods are ablaze with color that can last into November. Whether you’re scoping a wedding site with extraordinary scenery or just want to admire Mother Nature’s gorgeous fall wardrobe, Natural Bridge State Resort Park can serve up your specialty. And the Natural Bridge Sky Lift can add fun to either.
“We’ve had a number of weddings,” says Kerry Shaw, who with his wife, Judy, owns the Natural Bridge Sky Lift attraction. “The bride in her white dress and train, the groom in his tux, and the entire wedding party ride up to the top and get married on Natural Bridge.”
At the lift’s terminus, one path travels 600 feet to the bridge, where steps lead underneath, while a 1,200-foot walk in the opposite direction ends at an overlook with a photo-perfect view of the Cumberland Plateau and its beloved arch, a sandstone span 78 feet long and 65 feet high.
“When you get to the top of the lift, you’re looking over the mountains, and the colors are spectacular,” Shaw explains. “We always have color. It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope.”
An easy alternative to the sweat-breaking, mile hike up, the ride has a one-way alternative, so folks can hike up and ride the lift down, or vice versa.
Built in 1967, the Sky Lift was created by Ed Music, Judy Shaw’s father, and his friend, then-Governor Bert T. Combs, who wanted to find a way for people who couldn’t walk up to Natural Bridge to be able to see its beauty. Kerry and Judy purchased it from her dad 19 years ago and implemented a $700,000 upgrade in 2002, replacing an old, noisy gearbox and motors with a computerized, totally hydraulic system.
“Now it’s a comfortable, quiet ride up through one of the prettiest parts of the park,” Kerry says. “It’s not unusual to see a deer or wild turkey below you.”
If you visit during October, roving naturalists will be on top of the bridge to answer all questions. Leaf-peepers make this the busiest season at Natural Bridge.
“The neat thing is that we have some longer trails,” says Brian Gasdorf, naturalist supervisor. “The majority of people use trails of a mile or less, so there are still options for hikers seeking solitude.”
If you or your kids have never hiked, consider the park’s popular Leave No Trace Beginner Backpacking program. A fee of $75 includes instruction, equipment, meals, a naturalist-accompanied 8-10-mile round-trip trek with camping overnight in the Red River Gorge, and a Sunday buffet at Hemlock Lodge.
Another option is Exploring Arch Country Guided Hikes, 6-12-mile day hikes, for people who want to stretch their limits with the comfort of having a guide.
Both programs offer a taste of the wilderness that 2,500-acre Natural Bridge State Resort Park and its neighbor, the 30,000-acre Red River Gorge Geological Area, offer with sandstone cliffs, rock shelters, waterfalls, and endangered plant and wildlife habitats.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park is located near Slade on KY Highway 11, two scenic miles off the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway. The Natural Bridge Sky Lift opens at 10 a.m. from the first weekend in April through the last Sunday in October, and sometimes into early November. Sky Lift rates: $9 adults; $7 kids age 12 and under; kids 3 and under free; $8 seniors over 62; and $6 one-way for everyone. Contact NBSRP at (800) 325-1710 or go online to www.parks.ky.gov, then choose Parks/Resort/Natural Bridge.
While You’re There
Just a sandstone’s throw from Natural Bridge is the Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center, (606) 663-8100 or online at www.fs.fed.us/r8/boone/districts/cumberland/gladie.shtml, 3451 Sky Bridge Road, Stanton, the place to discover Red River Gorge history. Take the Gorge’s Loop Drive through Nada Tunnel to the Gladie Historic Site.
Rest your tired feet overnight at Natural Bridge State Resort Park’s Hemlock Lodge, where October buffets taste like Grandma’s in the kitchen. Or bunk down in a chalet at Natural Bridge 5-Star Cabin Rental in Slade, (888) 445-8434 or online at www.naturalbridgecabinrental.com.
Area Fall Happenings
The following events are at Natural Bridge State Resort Park. For more information, call (800) 325-1710 or go online to www.parks.ky.gov, then choose Parks/Resort/Natural Bridge.
• Hoedown Island Square Dancing: Saturday nights in October
• Invasive Species Volunteer Workshop: October 4 and November 1
• Canoeing for Beginners: November 1
• Leave No Trace Beginner Backpacking: November 8-10 (for second-timers only), and November 15-16
• Winter Bird Weekend: December 13-14
Old Time Crafts Day at Gladie Center is October 11, (606) 663-8100, demonstrations of sorghum making from sugar cane grown in the Red River Gorge, demos, and hands-on participations of early 19th-century crafts.
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
In 1862, while the War Between the States was raging in the east, Kentucky was embroiled in a conflict of its own. Situated in one of a handful of border states philosophically, and politically caught between the Union and the Confederacy, Kentucky’s Pulaski and Wayne counties raised troops for both armies and provided a wealth of resources from horses to grain to groceries for Tennessee’s Confederate forces.
All that changed in the early morning hours of January 19, 1862, when Confederate Brigadier General Felix Zollicoffer led his troops across the then Cumberland River from Monticello to Nancy to engage Union forces encamped there.
The decision cost Zollicoffer his life and the Confederacy its foothold in Kentucky’s eastern wilderness.
The rolling hills of Zollicoffer Park in Nancy have been mostly quiet for 146 years now. But the history that was made there lives on at the Mill Springs Battlefield Museum & Visitors Center in Nancy.
“We’re all about helping people understand the Battle of Mill Springs and why it was so significant,” says Norrie Wake, corporate administrator for the Mill Springs Battlefield Association, the nonprofit responsible for preserving the battlefield and related sites. “We want people to live the history.”
That experience begins inside the museum. Its latest installation, Combat on the Cumberland, puts visitors literally in touch with the battle—and the realities of military life during the winter of 1862.
“We’ve built a cabin inside the museum exactly like the ones that would have been winter quarters for the Confederate soldiers,” says Wake, “and kids can put on uniforms to see how they’d look as Confederate or Union soldiers.”
But there’s more. Amateur strategists can get the lay of the battle ground via a 9-mile self-guided driving tour that begins at Zollicoffer Park—the actual battle site and the spot where Zollicoffer met his end—and continues to troop encampment sites and the landing where ill-fated Confederate troops began their march to the fight.
Not all the attractions are strictly combat-focused. Across Lake Cumberland in Wayne County, the Mill Springs Grist Mill offers a glimpse of civilian life along the Cumberland River in the 1800s. In operation since 1817, the mill remains the largest overshot waterwheel in the nation.
Just next door is the Brown-Lanier House. Built in 1860 by Thompson C. Brown, the house served as headquarters for Confederate General William H. Carroll before the Battle of Mill Springs, and as headquarters for Union Generals Mahlon Manson and George H. Thomas afterward. It also served as a hospital for those wounded at Mill Springs. These days, the Brown-Lanier House hosts guided tours and afternoon gourmet teas.
“People can really imagine what gracious living was like here in those days,” Wake says.
Situated on the shores of Lake Cumberland, the Battle of Mill Springs historical sites are treasure troves for history buffs.
Mill Springs Visitors Center & Museum
9020 West Highway 80, Nancy
The Mill Springs Visitors Center & Museum, which was opened to the public on November 4, 2006, is open every day from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. It’s the place to learn about the Battle of Mill Springs and peruse the Civil War research library. Admission is free. Maps for the self-guided Mill Springs Battlefield driving tours are available free of charge at the Center’s main desk.
Combat on the Cumberland: This exhibit of Mill Springs Battle artifacts is on view throughout 2009 at the museum. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for students, and $3 for seniors and active members of the military.
Ghost Walk Battlefield Tours: Meet soldiers, officers, war widows, and others who still travel the Ravine Trail. November 8 from 6-9 p.m.
Brown-Lanier House: Located on KY Highway 1275 at Mill Springs in Wayne County, the Brown-Lanier House is a reminder of Kentucky’s genteel past. Tours take place Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sundays from 1-4 p.m., beginning at the Mill Springs Battlefield Information Center and Bookstore, located next door to the house. General admission is $2.
On December 13, a Christmas Open House will be held at the Brown-Lanier House from 5-8 p.m. with refreshments. Free.
Mill Springs Passports: Passports that allow admission to all Mill Springs attractions throughout the year are also available.
For more information about the Battle of Mill Springs and its historical sites, go online to www.millsprings.net.