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Chasing waterfalls

Big or small, Norman Reynolds wants to photograph them all

When he was 7 years old, Norman Reynolds’ family visited Cumberland Falls, and Norman has loved waterfalls ever since. 

By his late teens, he was hiking to every waterfall he could find. And now, five decades, a wife and two grown sons later, he has visited and photographed or collected data on approximately 350 waterfalls in some 80 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. 

His photographs include some falls with musical waters that spill no more than 2 or 3 feet into shaded pools, while others, such as Torrent Falls in Powell County or Yahoo Falls in McCreary County, may tumble 100 feet or more into scenic mountain streams or rock shelters once inhabited by ancient cultures. He has watched ravens soaring above their only known nesting site in Kentucky, while photographing Bad Branch Falls in Letcher County. 

“There’s just something, I guess for lack of a better word, ‘magical’ about a waterfall,” Norman says. “Regardless of the size of the waterfall … depending on the surroundings, sometimes it’s like another world for me.” 

His searches began in earnest during the mid-1980s when he noticed a postcard in a gift shop featuring picturesque Flat Lick Falls at Gray Hawk in Jackson County. He decided it would be interesting to find and photograph as many of Kentucky’s waterfalls as possible. His friend Chris Anderson, who was with the Kentucky State Police, joined him in the project in the early days, but later was assigned to western Kentucky, leaving Norman to search on his own. 

Their plan had been to compile a kind of field guide to Kentucky waterfalls. But eventually Norman, who lives in southern Jefferson County and works for a trucking company, got busy with his job and has put the field guide on the back burner. 

Because of the state’s topography, most of its more impressive waterfalls are found in eastern and southeastern Kentucky, though Crowe Hollow Falls and what Norman calls “The Cliffs Cascade,” both in Todd County, are notable exceptions. 

Searches of topographic maps, hikes along winding streams, and tips from friends and landowners help guide him to many waterfalls. He discovered an online database, www.kywaterfalls.com, which lists many falls across Kentucky, and which accepts submissions from waterfall enthusiasts. The site recently indicated that there are just over 700 documented waterfalls in the state, and that McCreary County was the first to claim 100 waterfalls, just ahead of Laurel County. 

Many of the falls are on private lands, which sometimes complicates the searches, especially when the owners cannot be reached. But Norman says he’s had no problems getting permission to photograph waterfalls on most private sites. 

His collection of hundreds of photos now fills many binders and digital files, arranged by county, including information about the falls’ names, locations and characteristics. 

Better yet, most are still flowing from his river of memories—all the way back to age 7.

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