Cory Ramsey is walking along a woodland trail with sandstone cliffs on one side and a deeply entrenched creek on the other, becoming more relaxed with every step.
The man who bills himself as “Outdoorsman Cory Ramsey” has taken more than 200 well-documented hikes in the last several years, exploring new trails from one end of Kentucky to the other. This trail, at Shanty Hollow Lake just north of his home in Bowling Green, is his favorite place, a place his boots know well.
“When I want to feel good, I come here,” he says.
Ramsey, 32, is making a name for himself as someone who enjoys the state’s outdoors and finds many ways to share his interest. He was the first person to sign on as a blogger for the state’s Adventure Tourism office. He appears monthly on Bowling Green’s WBKO Midday Live television show hosted by Tina Jennings, often wearing an Indiana Jones-style fedora. He writes a column that appears in western Kentucky newspapers. And he has a website—www.coryramseyoutdoors.com—with stories and videos that ask you to “Think of Cory as ‘Your Travel Agent…to the Middle of Nowhere!'” and promises “Exploration Made Easy.”
Along the way, he has developed a deep appreciation for Kentucky.
“It’s a unique state,” he says. “It’s not like West Virginia, where it’s all mountains. It’s not like Nebraska, where it’s all farmland. It’s pretty cool driving from one part of the state to another because it changes so much.
“You have to remind yourself that this is Kentucky too, these are Kentuckians too. The hardscrabble mining folks and the farmers and the hustle-bustle folks in Louisville and Lexington and the plain old American folks that live everywhere else.”
Informative and funny
Ramsey not only hikes the trails and writes about them, he comes up with lists of the best of everything outdoors, from trails to waterfalls to overlooks to lakes.
His tales of the outdoors are often funny and frank. There was, for example, the moment at Reelfoot Lake when he suddenly found himself just 20 feet from a mature bald eagle. He writes that he was with a “young blonde TV journalist” who he was dating at the time, and was so taken with her beauty that he “failed to capture the beauty of the moment” with a camera.
There was the time at Carter Caves State Resort Park when he slipped and found himself flat on a hard rock, inches from a rain-swollen creek, with a throbbing arm: “I took stock of my situation. A little wet. Still had my camera, my wallet, my keys, but my pride had floated downstream somewhere.”
He also uses humor in his TV appearances. In a segment on Christmas gear for the outdoors, he showed a foil-lined jacket and deadpanned that it could also be used for cooking hotdogs. For Valentine’s Day, he came up with the Top Five Places to Kiss a Girl in Kentucky.
He often provides informative and entertaining travelogues of his journey to the trailhead. He mentions a stop at Sanders Café in Corbin, where Harland Sanders came up with his 11 herbs and spices. On the way to a Thanksgiving Day hike at Shanty Hollow, he notes a Black Friday-eve tent city that had sprung up outside a Best Buy store, the tents filled with “turkeys…waiting for a deal on a flat-screen.”
Sometimes, he takes a video camera along. He will set the camera on a rock, turn it on, and make a short video, starring Outdoorsman Cory Ramsey.
Ramsey hikes because he loves hiking, but the blogs, the column, the TV appearances, and the videos are all part of a larger plan.
Ramsey grew up in Hickman, on the Mississippi River in far western Kentucky. As a boy, he fished for crappie in the Bayou de Chine, pulled catfish from the Mississippi, and did his share of hunting for deer and squirrels.
“I spent a lot of time in the outdoors because that’s all you have to do down there,” he says. “That’s where it all got started.”
He was a good student and, he says, lucky. Starting in kindergarten, a girl named Betsy Sanger was by far the smartest girl in his class. After the eighth grade, she left for a private school in Tennessee. That cleared the way for him to be valedictorian of his small class at Fulton County High School. And that led to him becoming a Governor’s Scholar, which meant free college tuition. Most kids from Fulton who go to college go to Murray State University. But when Ramsey was in the Governor’s Scholars program at Centre College, he mentioned that he was interested in broadcasting, and a fellow scholar advised him to look into the program at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
He did some disc jockey and other radio work while at WKU, and graduated in 2004 with a degree in radio and TV broadcasting. His minor was in political science, which he pushes to the front on his online bio because it “sounds cooler.”
Passion for hiking
What he lacked when he graduated was a good-paying job at a radio or TV station (or even a political science gig). He took a video course to earn a degree from Faith Bible Institute of Monroe, Louisiana, then got a job at Bowling Green Metalforming, a factory that makes frames for Ford pickups and other vehicles.
Then came the recession and, in 2009, a layoff with a guarantee of a callback in two months. Until that point, he had been an infrequent hiker, hitting the trail maybe once or twice a year.
“It was either sit at the computer and look at Facebook all day or get outside,” he says. “It turned into 20-some trips I called the layoff hikes. For a lot of those places, it was the first time I had ever been there.”
In the fall of that year he wrote an article about the hikes for a Bowling Green magazine, and everything else—the blog, TV appearances, newspaper column—followed.
By late last year, his travels had taken him to all 120 of Kentucky’s counties. Earlier this year, he completed hike No. 200.
He has been interviewed by several radio stations. He teaches classes in photographing waterfalls. He has self-published books on waterfalls and Shanty Hollow. His Web site has attracted views from 43 states.
“The whole idea of the Web site is bait just in case someone comes across it and says, ‘Hey, here’s what this guy is doing,'” he says.
Elaine Wilson, who is executive director of the state’s Office of Adventure Tourism, says Ramsey covers a wider area than most of the bloggers who write for her.
“His desire to go to every county and look at all the things that have made each one an asset to our state—it’s just tremendous,” she says.
And he has picked up friends and fans along the way.
“It’s always exciting to find someone who is so passionate about the outdoors,” says Stuart Peck, a freelance writer who lives in Owensboro. “He really seems to enjoy getting out there and exploring new areas.”
Ramsey still has his factory job, which pays the bills. The outdoors stuff is “slowly going from not making any money to making a little.”
He eventually would like to have some kind of TV or radio broadcasting job. An outdoors show would be ideal, or maybe a talk show, “anything that lets my personality out of the box.”
Regardless of what happens, he says, he will still pull on boots and hit the trail.
“Hiking has been a door-opener for me,” he says, “a niche that has taken me farther than
I ever thought it could.”
Cory Ramsey’s love of the outdoors spills over onto his Facebook page, with status updates and photos from hikes. But another love—music—makes frequent appearances.
He tries to post a YouTube music video every day—and his tastes are eclectic:
The Beatles. The Temptations. T-Rex. Willie Nelson. Chuck Berry. Neil Diamond. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Whitesnake. Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Ramsey grew up listening to his father’s classic rock collection of 45s, including Jackson Brown, Looking Glass, and The Rolling Stones. From there he ventured into classic rock of the ’50s and ’60s.
Often the music matches his mood. A rainy day might mean Ray Charles. If he’s wearing his cowboy boots, country music is called for. He also likes some Top 40, and some newer music. On Fridays, he tries to post something upbeat, and labels it “Friday Baby!”
Sometimes the songs reflect something going on in politics, or in his personal life.
“I can think back to points in my life, a breakup or meeting somebody or a job opportunity, and I can remember the song I played on Facebook that day,” he says. “There are songs I can’t play again. It’s like some people say, ‘That’s our song’; for me, they’re moments in time.”
CORY RAMSEY’S “TOP 5 UNSPOILED HIKING SPOTS”
Cory Ramsey’s “bucket list” of top five hikes appeared in an earlier edition of Kentucky Living. To read it, go to “Top 5 Trails”.
For this article, Ramsey came up with his “Top 5 Unspoiled Hiking Spots,” in ascending order:
5. Shanty Hollow Lake, north of Bowling Green. Ramsey knows this trail like an old friend. He calls it his “tiny pocket of cliff lines, creek dribble, and waterfalls.”
4. Greenbo Lake Tygart Trail in Greenup County. This, Ramsey says, is one of the largest state park trail systems. And there’s a bonus: two covered bridges nearby to drive to. “I’m always up for a side trip,” he says.
3. Natural Arch. No, he’s not talking about Natural Bridge in the state park near Red River Gorge. This arch is south of Somerset in the Daniel Boone Forest in McCreary County. Ramsey says Natural Arch is on par with Natural Bridge, but with fewer people.
2. Cumberland Falls, Trail 10. Yeah, No. 9 made the “Top Trails” list, but the hiker wishing to avoid crowds would hike upstream from the falls. “You’ll get the same woodlands and a whole lot less hikers to encounter, making the environment feel more exclusive,” Ramsey says.
1. Breaks Interstate Park on the Kentucky-Virginia border near Elkhorn City. Ramsey calls this “a jewel tucked back on the end of Pike County that trickles over into Virginia.” He says the trails are more of the caliber one would find in a national park, and the terrain is among the most challenging he has seen. He advises allowing a full day for a 4-mile hike.
Cory Ramsey’s “Top 5 Kentucky Waterfalls”
These are best viewed in the springtime after a few good rain showers.
Everyone knows about Cumberland Falls, which is so high and wide that it’s billed as “The Niagara of the South,” but Cory Ramsey, who has seen more waterfalls than most of us, says that while it is spectacular, it is not quite his favorite Kentucky waterfall.
In fact, it’s not even his favorite waterfall at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.
Ramsey, who is building a personal brand as an outdoorsman, likes to make hiking and enjoying Kentucky’s diverse scenery as easy as possible for others by developing a top five list in various categories.
Here, in ascending order, is his list of what he considers his “Top 5 Kentucky Waterfalls,” in a state that offers many:
5. Shanty Hollow Lake. This falls on the edge of a small Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Lake north of Bowling Green is at the end of Ramsey’s personal favorite hiking trail. He has seen it frozen in winter, gushing in spring, and dry in mid-summer. And it’s not likely to be crowded at any time. “Not promoted as well as, say, Yahoo Falls in the Big South Fork, but just as impressive,” he says.
4. Nolin Lake State Park in Edmonson County. Ramsey describes this one as “not a tall waterfall, but wide.” With Nolin Lake as a backdrop, he says, it is well worth the visit. A new bike path has routed traffic away from the falls, but you can still get there. “Best bet is in the spring after a few good rain showers,” he says.
3. Tioga Falls. They won’t let you in the depository to see the gold stored at Fort Knox, which is south of Louisville. But on the same Army base you can hike a trail that leads to these falls. Ramsey calls it “an impressive series of waterfalls best seen a couple of weeks before leaves appear on the trees in the spring.” Like most, it’s better after a rain. And you get to drive by the gold on the way there.
2. Cumberland Falls near Corbin. This is considered one of Kentucky’s best assets, but Ramsey notes that it was almost dammed in the 1930s to produce electricity. It was saved by the DuPont family and a legislative override of a veto, and what became Cumberland Falls State Resort Park was born. “The fact that it was almost lost is enough of a reason to find it today,” Ramsey says.
1. Eagle Falls. It’s not on a nature license plate like Cumberland Falls, but Eagle Falls is in the same state park, and Ramsey says it “is a show-stopper every time I visit.” What makes it special? “It’s all a combination of huge boulders, the hemlock trees, and the secluded feel overall.”