Work On Mountain Horse Trail Raises Concerns

WHITESBURG, Ky. (AP) - 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.
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader,

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by steve Location: irvine on Dec 30, 2008 at 08:47 AM
    As soon as people look at these nuts and global warming fruit loops its a religion to them that's what it is they look at this stuff as a religion they want to tell you how to live your lives but they hop in their multi million dollar plane and fly away to their 14 bedroom house gag me.
  • by Anonymous on Dec 30, 2008 at 06:50 AM
    Why don't you hear the environmentalists complaining about horses on the other side of the state, they (the horses) might step on a mouse.
  • by Ralph on Dec 30, 2008 at 03:19 AM
    These "environmentalists" are just the local crazies trying to get their 15 minutes of fame. They need investigated.
  • by LaRae Location: Van Lear on Dec 29, 2008 at 04:43 PM
    OMG!! ANYTHING that will help the PEOPLE of Eastern Kentucky survive in this economy needs to be done! The toads and bats can live happily ever after in a zoo. Plus, with all the STRAIGHT PIPES in various communities, I doubt the horse trail would have little impact on our environment.
  • by AC Location: Corbin on Dec 27, 2008 at 10:12 PM
    No comment I could post could express my opinion on this subject better than that left by "Anonymous." Poignant and concise.
  • by me Location: ky on Dec 27, 2008 at 06:35 AM
    i wonder if these so called enviromental groupes even know what endangered species there are in ky or if they have any ideal of what is on pine mt
  • by Reality Location: Kentucky on Dec 26, 2008 at 04:41 PM
    Did anyone ever think about investigating some of these so-called environmental groups to see who they actually represent?
  • by steve on Dec 26, 2008 at 03:36 PM
    You know we are getting fed up with environmental nuts i guarantee we take care of plants and animals better than you stupid idiots its time to take a stand on these nuts.
  • by Anonymous on Dec 26, 2008 at 02:01 PM
    Too bad ignorant people aren't an endangered species.
  • by Carli Location: Eolia on Dec 26, 2008 at 01:51 PM
    The tree hugging environmentalists must not have any coal or logging companies to pick on this week so they've decided to put a stop to our horse trail.
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