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Exploring Kentucky: Armchair Explorer

Kentucky attractions are welcoming guests via virtual visits

By Katherine Tandy Brown

Imagine my surprise when an email landed in my inbox entitled: “Louisville Zoo Sloth Update.” It turns out that once the zoo can re-open to the public, a sloth exhibit will be one of those featured and will include a meet-and-greet with sloths Sunni and Sebastian, solitary, nocturnal critters that hang upside down to eat, sleep, mate and even give birth. Who knew?

But the times, they are a-changin’ and due to the current health crisis, you can’t go see the sloths just yet. You can, however, check in with them—and other animals—to watch webcam videos, while kids can discover cool things to do on the zoo’s Facebook page every day.

The zoo’s increased online presence is but one example of how Kentucky attractions are currently rising to the occasion of “no visitors.” Creativity is running rampant, and you can visit many of the commonwealth’s intriguing features from your armchair.

Every Kentuckian who sheds a tear during “My Old Kentucky Home” felt a big gap in the spring calendar when the Kentucky Derby was postponed until September. However, the Kentucky Derby Museum (KDM), held a virtual Derby at Home on the first Saturday in May with a virtual race between Triple Crown winners. Beloved Secretariat bested the lot.

Updated daily, the museum offers “walk-throughs” of its 10,000-item collection, offering virtual peeks of never-before-seen memorabilia. You can also take Derby quizzes, go on walking tours of Churchill Downs, and download activities for kids.

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Another equine-centric virtual hotspot is the website for Horse Country, an organization of horse farms, equine medical clinics and equine attractions dedicated to sharing the stories of the four-legged stars of the Bluegrass. Meet the stallions at Claiborne Farm in Paris, once home to Secretariat; take a stroll through the yearling complex at Taylor Made Farm; or take a tour of Old Friends equine retirement home in Georgetown. Accompany a veterinarian from Lexington’s Hagyard Equine Medical Institute on morning rounds, and watch a foal being born. See a blacksmith work with yearlings at Mill Ridge Farm, and catch a drone’s-eye view of Jonabell Farm.

The Kentucky Department of Tourism recently released an 11-video mini-series of adventures around the state. Tour distilleries and horse farms; cook with celebrity chefs; spelunk in Mammoth Cave; and immerse yourself in African-American history. You’ll discover how a variety of products made in Kentucky are created—from Toyotas to bourbon barrels to Ale-8-1 soda bottles. Tap your toes to musicians and watch renowned travel photographer Elia Locardi experience and snap pictures of some of the best of the Bluegrass State’s offerings.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill’s story is certainly one of those. Home to the third largest Shaker community in the country between 1805 and 1910, the award-winning, vibrant site now spans 3,000 acres and the virtual village comes alive on its new YouTube videos. Take an educational tour of its 200-year-old certified organic garden, orchard, herb garden with medicinal herbs, and livestock; or learn about the preservation process of two dwellings. 

Music helps the soul stay healthy, and the Lexington Philharmonic is doing its part to keep viewers engaged and relaxed with a variety of online videos and resources, including educational offerings for young children, videos of musicians for its Season Series audiences, and broadcasts of past concerts on WEKU 88.9 FM. Musicians chat about their instruments and give short individual performances. Viewers can even submit questions for personalized answers.

“We are incredibly appreciative that instead of gathering at live concerts, families are inviting us into their homes through our @LexPhilLivingRoom series,” said LexPhil President Colmon Elridge III. “…What we’ve done to connect with our community, out of a new necessity during this crisis, will only expand once our community re-opens.”

Every day, the president and CEO of the Frazier Museum in Louisville sends out a new e-blast letter about what’s going on virtually that day and a video either of a museum feature or one he’s found from another entity, such as My Old Kentucky Home. An exhibit on women’s suffrage was to open March 19th but that didn’t happen, so at the Virtual Frazier you may see suffragette-related vignettes or hear music from a Celebrating the Sounds of Kentucky feature.

The big Frazier project is the Coronavirus Capsule. In partnership with the Jefferson County Public Schools, the museum receives submissions daily from kids and adults alike via the written word, artwork, photos and video on how they are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. The University of Louisville Library will archive selected entries.

Bowling Green’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is also offering fun online options, including the National Corvette Museum’s Vettecademy on the NCM Facebook page weekdays at 10 a.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the museum posts on its website (corvettemuseum.org/learn/about-corvette/fully-vetted/) an adjacent series, Fully Vetted, geared for adults. Holley, a Bowling Green company that produces automotive parts, is also getting in on the virtual action. Check out the results of its online April car show and enter ongoing shows at the Holley website. Or take a virtual train ride at the Historic RailPark & Train Museum’s Facebook Page.

Staying at home doesn’t mean you have to stop exploring!

Katherine Tandy Brown is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]