The Kentucky for Kentucky crew takes to the trees to check out the new Pine Mountain Zipline Canopy Tour at Pine Mountain State Park.
Kentucky's oldest state park received a thoroughly modern upgrade last summer with the addition of the Pine Mountain Zipline Canopy Tour, the first canopy-based eco-adventure in Kentucky's state park system.
Pine Mountain State Resort Park, in Bell County, was founded in 1924 as Cumberland State Park. (The name was later changed to avoid confusion with nearby Cumberland Falls State Park.) Pine Mountain has a decent golf course, birders know it as a hot spot along the migratory pathway, and crowds descend on the area each spring for the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival, the oldest continually running festival in Kentucky, but Pine Mountain State Park remains largely unknown. The Pine Mountain Zipline Canopy Tour aims to change that.
"It's such a beautiful park, and it's so underutilized," says Burgess Carey, who operates the canopy tour for the City of Pineville, which owns the attraction. "It has all of the ingredients for a great destination, and we hope that the canopy tour can be a part of it." Carey is also opening a canopy tour at Boone Creek Outdoors in Lexington later this summer, which he says will be a much different but no-less-thrilling experience than the Pine Mountain tour.
Although it hasn't yet been in operation for a full season, the Pine Mountain Zipline Canopy Tour does a beautiful job of showcasing the state park and the region, and has already generated a lot of interest in Bell County. A scenic driving loop and the planned construction of a $25 million Appalachian Wildlife Center are also part of a multi-year plan to position Bell County as a tourist destination.
"There's been lot of excitement among the locals, and a lot of word-of-month advertising," says Jacob Roan, special projects coordinator with the City of Pineville, of the canopy tour. "We've had people from as far Canada, California and Florida come for the tour. It's been a great addition."
The Kentucky for Kentucky crew visited Pine Mountain recently to check it out. We meet brothers Ben and Duane, our guides, and Ashley, who's along for ground support, at the canopy tour's headquarters, which is located in a repurposed cabin near the park's lodge. The brothers are Bell County natives who also helped construct the canopy tour, along with an international crew of engineers, arborists and canopy tour installation experts.
They explain what to expect—there are seven ziplines in all, along with two controlled rappels and two swinging bridge crossings—as we gear up in harnesses, helmets and gloves. They also explain how to safely navigate the course and guide us through a run on a short practice zipline. Then it's time to load into a shuttle van and head for the start of the tour, just a short drive away.
"Once you're up in the trees, you're feet don't hit the ground again until the end," Ben says as we climb up to the first platform.
The first two ziplines are fairly short, and serve as a good warm up for what lies ahead. I'll admit to a little trepidation standing on the third platform and eyeing the thumb-sized cables that stretch through a tunnel of trees and out of sight. At more than 1,500 feet, it's the longest zipline on the course, as well as the fastest. But as I relax into the harness and tuck into position, the long zip also allows ample time to appreciate the unique perspective as I'm whizzing through the canopy at 45 miles per hour.
The excitement is noticeably higher and anxiety levels much lower once we've all safely arrived at the platform on the other side, which is built into the upper reaches of a huge hemlock. Here Ben and Duane help lower us to a second platform via a controlled rappel, and also take a moment to point out some features of the forest and of the area.
While the ziplines, rappels and swinging bridges are certainly a thrill, the conversations on the platforms between zips are just as entertaining. On one platform, Ben shows us how the limbs of a mature hemlock tree spiral upward in a Fibonacci sequence. On another, Duane shows us where Native Americans bent saplings as they grew to mark a trail. Both claim that their grandfather never owned a toothbrush, but rather used chewed twigs from sassafras trees to brush his teeth and help freshen his breath. The tree's roots are also used to make root beer.
They also tell us some of the local folklore and about some of the more colorful characters who used to frequent this area, and point out places where the invasive woolly adelgid are devastating stands of hemlocks. More than just a thrilling adventure in the trees, Ben and Duane's enthusiasm and knowledge about Pine Mountain and Eastern Kentucky help provide context for the canopy tour, as well as a richer appreciation for this beautiful portion of our state.
Later, as we kick back with a few Kentucky Ales in the restaurant at the lodge and watch hummingbirds visit feeders outside the picture window, I can't help but appreciate the view from a new perspective.
Pine Mountain Zipline Canopy Tour is located at 1050 State Park Road in Pineville, Kentucky. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, weather permitting. Call 606-257-4879 or visit pmzct.com for information and reservations.