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Pioneer Horse Trail

An environmental group is calling for a federal investigation to determine whether endangered species were harmed in the construction of an eastern Kentucky horse trail that was a focal point of the state's "adventure tourism" initiative.
Kentucky Resources Council executive director Tom FitzGerald
wrote letters to Gov. Steve Beshear and Wildlife Commissioner Jon
Gassett complaining about bulldozer work on the mountain that
towers high above the small town of Whitesburg.
Gassett ordered a halt to work on the trail.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Friday that the bulldozer
work started long before agreed-upon environmental studies were
completed for the proposed 12-mile Pioneer Horse Trail. Letcher
County Judge-Executive Jim Ward said he had received approval from
state wildlife officials to begin the work. However, state wildlife
officials deny giving that approval.
Gassett said the area scraped by the bulldozer is being studied
to determine "what remediation may be needed." He said he also
asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether
threatened or endangered species were harmed.
The wildlife commissioner said his agency will work with the
Beshear administration "to explore the benefits" of a statewide
environmental impact statement on the potential impacts of
adventure tourism, an initiative being promoted by First Lady Jane
Beshear and Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo.
FitzGerald said he was pleased with Gassett's response.
"The concern I have is that in the enthusiasm to make these
adventure tourism destination points, we don't literally trample
the things that make these sites special," he said.
When local and state officials signed an agreement for the horse
trail to go through the Hensley-Pine Mountain Wildlife Management
Area, Letcher County greed to provide an archaeological survey, an
environmental assessment and "detailed electronic plans" that
dealt with clearing trees, controlling erosion and avoiding
sensitive areas.
It also agreed to get written approval from a number of local,
state and federal agencies.
Ward told the newspaper that he was told he could bring the
heavy equipment in as soon as the agreement with Fish and Wildlife
was signed. "I particularly asked if we could move our equipment
in and do it, and they said `yeah,"' Ward said.
In a July 23 memo to Gassett, Kentucky wildlife division
director Karen Alexy said she had "been in contact with Judge Ward
during the past few weeks to keep him updated on the progress of
the agreement and to let him know that trail construction could
begin when they were ready. Letcher County began construction of
the horse trail last weekend. I spoke to Judge Ward yesterday about
their progress on the trail, and he informed me that it was going
well."
Environmentalists, including Kentucky Natural Lands Trust
executive director Hugh Archer, opposed the Pine Mountain horse
trail. Archer warned the state Environmental Quality Commission in
November that the horse trail might be used by ATV riders. He
worried that ATVs would cause ruts and erosion that would damage
the mountain environment.
Gassett played down any damage the bulldozer might have done,
noting that it was working in an area that already was an old log
road.
Both county and wildlife officials told the newspaper last week
that the studies the county agreed to last summer are under way and
coming along well.


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