One of the grants announced at the Shaping Our Appalachian Region Summit last week would fund studies to develop a river trail that would span from Elkhorn City to Louisa.

Gov. Matt Bevin and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers announced last week that the City of Prestonsburg would receive $185,000 in Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot Program grant funding to do planning and feasibility studies to develop the Levisa and Russell forks of the Big Sandy River into a Blue Water Trail. The Russell Fork is already designated as a Blue Water Trail. 

Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton said this project would expand the trail to Louisa.

“We’ve been capitalizing with some tourism on the river, and our goal is to try to bring the entire river together from Elkhorn City all the way to Louisa,” Stapleton said. “I think it’s a planning grant, more so than a feasibility grant. We know it will work ... What this is going to do is help us find locations that are reasonable, economical and logical to put ramps from Elkhorn City all the way to Louisa, to give people access to the river.” 

He said a feasibility study on a river trail was conducted years ago, but this project will focus on detailing specific areas to add boat ramps and camp sites for people who come to the region for the  river tour.

It would take a person nearly two hours to drive the approximate 88 miles from Elkhorn City to Louisa, but Stapleton said a river trail that spanned that area would be longer and likely take days to navigate. 

“From Elkhorn City all the way to Louisa, I think it’s just over 100 miles,” Stapleton said. “You’re talking about days and days. I would say, from Elkhorn City to Prestonsburg, with a lot of paddling, you’re talking about two to two-and-a-half days, and that’s a lot of paddling.”

He said Prestonsburg decided to seek the grant because the river ties these Eastern Kentucky communities together and it’s steeped in history. 

“And, you know, this is, when we looked at it, this was our reason behind trying to get this grant,” he said. “The only thing — you know, we have our culture, we have our history, we have our music, our arts. We have all of this stuff, but you know what, the only tangible thing that ties us all together is that river. That’s the only thing that you can actually touch. And there’s a lot of history on that river.”

He talked about his father tying logs together on the Russell Fork in Elkhorn City to ship them down river to Floyd County decades ago.

“There’s just history there that we need to try to capitalize,” he said. “There’s beauty there, and there’s a lot of people who enjoy doing that. So if we can establish some camp sites, give good access to the water, we’re going to increase tourism to the entire region.” 

Stapleton expects the funding to take some time. He said it took two years to receive funding announced for the rail trail project that is currently underway in Prestonsburg. He noted, however, that several local governments, groups and individuals are already working on river access, already have river access areas in surrounding areas and already know where river access points can be added. The Floyd County tourism commission, for example, is planning to open a river access on U.S. 23 in the Allen area. 

“I’m excited about it,” Stapleton said. “Anything we can do to bring more people to the region. If it helps the region, it helps us.”

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