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Tripping through the Universe

Through the Woods to Kingdom Come

Tripping through the Universe

Though thousands of Kentucky school children study the starlit path of the Milky Way, an astonishing number have never seen the real thing.

“City lights are too bright to allow a view of it,” says John Workman, astronomical interpreter for the Golden Pond Planetarium and Observatory, “but if kids come here at night, they can see it because of our dark sky. We’re miles from any cities.”

Located inside the Golden Pond Visitor Center at Land Between The Lakes, the facility is one of six major planetariums in the state. Once a check arrives from NASA, Northern Kentucky University will house the seventh.

Nearly everyone, it seems, likes sliding into a comfy seat under a cool, darkening dome to watch stars pop out overhead. And December is a special time of the year since most planetariums offer holiday programs.

“In all of us there’s a basic fascination with the cosmos,” says Dr. Roger Scott, director of Western Kentucky University’s Hardin Planetarium, built during the “space race” days in 1967. “People always wonder, is there life out there in space? That’s one of the attractions of a planetarium. The mystery of the night sky is intriguing.”

Intriguing enough to entice several thousand school groups annually to his 150-seat facility’s free public programs. Every summer, 20 Kentucky science educators attend a weeklong Astronomy and Space Science Workshop there.

Most planetariums have night sky programs that teach about stars and other space phenomena, and feature primary school through post-graduate educational curricula, providing astronomy experiences not possible in the classroom. Others add outdoor telescope viewing and exotic laser shows. All offer the public—scouts, church groups, family reunions, and individuals—the chance to learn more about “what’s out there,” with shows that are animated for kids and mind-expanding for the curious of all ages.

At the Gheens Science Hall and Rausch Planetarium at the University of Louisville, a lobby kiosk flashes photos straight from space.

“Because we’re a member of the Museum Visualization Alliance,” says Drew Foster, technical coordinator and interim director, “when NASA gets current photos from the Mars Rovers and Cassini Huygen Saturn Mission, we get them at the same time.”

With a 55-foot dome and 160 seats, the state-of-the-art planetarium boasts an “idiot-proof” solar telescope for viewing sunspots and eclipses, a bronze inlaid model of the solar system, a Roving Astronomer outreach program, and laser shows ranging from educational and corporate presentations to hip music happenings.

“There’s more interest in astronomy now because we have the International Space Station putting things in orbit and showing pictures of things we’ve never seen before,” says Dr. Jack Fletcher, director of Eastern Kentucky University Hummel Planetarium. Its 68-foot dome is the largest in the state.

While other planetariums can show the sky as seen from anywhere on earth, the 164-seat Hummel can project the view from any other planet in our solar system.

Planetarium equipment has achieved super sophistication.

“Our computer system can integrate laser into a show for spectacular special effects,” says Dr. Ray Shubinski, director of the new $4.2 million East Kentucky Science Center and Planetarium in Prestonsburg. “We can simulate a fabulous meteor shower or a diaphanous comet with a flowing tail.”

Opened in April 2004, the 85-seat center has a 3,000-foot exhibit area, 1,000-square-foot high-tech classroom, and “Ask a Scientist” Web site feature. A traveling exhibit through January 9 features technology of ancient Israel.


East Kentucky Science Center
Prestonsburg • (606) 889-0303
School groups Tuesday-Friday; public viewings Saturday at 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m.
Exhibit or planetarium/both venues: adults $3.50/$6; students & seniors over 60 $2.50/$4; under age 4 free holiday show: Star of Bethlehem

Hardin Planetarium
Western Kentucky University, Department of Physics & Astronomy
Bowling Green • (270) 745-4044
Call for public feature times; school groups by appointment. All programs free. Holiday show: Star of Bethlehem

Hummel Planetarium
Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond
(859) 622-1547
Thursday and Friday, children’s program 6 p.m., feature program 7 p.m.; Saturday, children’s program 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., feature program 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Feature programs: Adults $4, all students and seniors $3.50, children 12 and under $3. December holiday feature: Season of Light.

Gheens Science Hall & Rausch Planetarium
University of Louisville • (502) 852-6664
Tuesday–Friday, 12 noon–4:30 p.m.; Friday evening, 7:30 p.m.–11:15 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Planetarium and laser programs: adults $7; children 12 and under, seniors over 60, and U of L students, $5; no children under 3 years in planetarium, no children under 5 in laser shows.
Holiday shows November 27–January 8. Star of Bethlehem and Laser Holidays shows.

Golden Pond Observatory
Golden Pond Visitor Center, Land Between The Lakes (800) LBL-7077
Observatory open 9 a.m.–5 p.m., 7 days a week. Holiday planetarium program, ’Tis the Season, December 1–19 (call for times). Ages 13 and up, $3; ages 5–12, $1.75; 4 and under free.

Weatherford Planetarium & Gilbert
Roberts Observatory, Berea College, Berea
(859) 985-3351
Not open regular hours; call to schedule groups. School groups $10; other groups, $10 minimum charge plus $1 per person.

Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

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Through the Woods to Kingdom Come

Looking for a heartwarming dose of Appalachian culture and scenery? Just set your tires on U.S. 119, where national forest land covers the peaks like a green velvet quilt, and the hollows have birthed intriguing folkways for hundreds of years.

Near the Virginia border, 4,145-foot-high Black Mountain is the highest point in Kentucky. If the bear did go over the mountain, it must’ve liked what it saw, for the black bear population is on the rise in these parts.

“In the past 10 years, we’ve gone from four or five sightings a year to near daily,” says Rick Fuller, manager of Kingdom Come State Park near the town of Cumberland, the “Black Bear Capital of Kentucky.” “Right now we’re watching a female and five cubs.”

Named after the Civil War novel The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by Kentuckian John J. Fox Jr., the park preserves 1,283 acres of pristine wilderness along the crest of Pine Mountain. Open all year, it affords breathtaking views of Black Mountain, Cumberland, and Poor Fork River Valley, and features sandstone formations, fishing, primitive camping, and five rugged miles of hiking trails.

For mountain bikes, cars, and light trucks, the Little Shepherd Trail stretches 38 miles from Whitesburg to Harlan, all narrow gravel and blacktop, but sheer beauty.

Snuggled next to Kingdom Come, 554-acre Lilley B. Cornett Woods is a National Natural Landmark, state wildlife refuge, and one of Kentucky’s few remaining tracts of virgin forest. Of 90 tree and shrub species here, the oldest pre-date the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Though lovely, a guided hike climbs 900 strenuous feet in elevation.

“If people call, I encourage them to make an appointment,” says Robert Watts, manager of Lilley B. Cornett Woods for 32 years. “Going with a guide is a good idea for hiker safety and protection of the woods.”

Far more than a walk in the amazing Appalachians, a National Historic Landmark teaches environmental education and traditional arts and crafts to children and adults on 800 woodsy acres, more than half of which is “preserved forever.” Begun as a community residential school, Pine Mountain Settlement School near Cumberland now offers workshops such as forestry and historic preservation, classes, and well-attended annual events, like Appalachian Family Week, Spring Flower and Fall Color weekends, and a Nativity Play running since 1919.

“Pine Mountain is a peaceful place,” says Nancy Adams, Pine Mountain Settle-ment School director. “We encourage learning at a leisurely pace. People can explore natural areas, unburden from the stresses of urban living, and enrich themselves.”

Down the pike on Main Street in Cumberland, Poor Fork Arts & Crafts is a nonprofit, tri-state guild with 50 to 60 members who pack the store with such treasures as hand-felted wool hats, quilts, pottery, and turned wood bowls.

“We sell handmade crafts and art for a small commission to maintain the building,” explains board member Mary Anne Martin. “Many of our craftsmen and artists are older, and this provides a supplemental income.”


Here’s how to find out more about the myriad of intriguing attractions along or off U.S. 119 in southeastern Kentucky.

Southeast Tourism Development Association

Kingdom Come State Park
(800) 255-PARK

Kingdom Come Swappin’ Meetin’
(606) 589-2145 ext.2102

Lilley Cornett Woods
(606) 633-5828

Pine Mountain Settlement School
(606) 558-3571

Poor Fork Arts & Crafts Guild
(606) 589-2545

School Days and Miners’ Ways
Deep in Harlan County coal country, Benham was begun by Wisconsin Steel (now International Harvester) in 1911 as a camp to mine the area’s rich seams of black gold. At its Kentucky Coal Mining Museum, four exhibit floors fill the old commissary, telling the town’s tales through the lives of miners and their families, the history of coal and mining technology, miner’s daughter Loretta Lynn, and a mock underground mine.

Visitors can suit up in protective miner’s gear and see the real thing in nearby Lynch on a Portal No. 31 Underground Mine Tour, opening early in 2005. Find out more at (606) 848-1530 or go online to and follow the links.

Stay overnight and relive classroom memories at the Benham School House Inn, built in 1926 as an elementary and high school for coal camp kids. Its halls are still lined with dark-green lockers and floors polished to a high gloss. Specials in the Apple Room Restaurant include famous Benham barbecue and the Big Man Davis steak sandwich, named after a former coach at the school. For more information, call (800) 231-0627 or go online to

Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

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