Spring comes slowly to the Appalachians of Eastern Kentucky. But when early spring sunshine warms the earth, delicate redbud trees take the stage with blossom hues ranging from the lightest pearly pink to a shade so fiery it’s just short of true red.
To build on nature’s gift, Kentuckians have planted more than 250,000 additional redbud trees the past few years along the state’s roads – especially in the 47 eastern and southern counties that are part of the Redbud Trails program initiated in 2004 by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers.
Meanwhile, it turns out that April is Redbud Month in the commonwealth, and McCreary County is celebrating this gorgeous harbinger of spring with Redbud Day on Apr. 5.
Tucked into southeastern Kentucky on the Tennessee line, McCreary County shares the Big South Fork Recreational Area with its southern neighbor and lies but a short, pretty drive off I-75 via Highway 90, an official Kentucky Scenic Byway, where all the day’s events take place.
“The pace here is laid back,” says Adam Phillips, chairman of the McCreary County Tourist Commission and a lifelong resident of the county. “We’re in the Appalachian foothills with lots of rivers, so the views are beautiful. About 70 percent of the county is federally owned by the National Forest Service and the National Park Service, so there’s a lot of forest land here untouched by development.”
Festivities begin at 10 a.m., right at the junction of U.S. 27 and KY 90 in the community of Parkers Lake, when Junkyard Pottery rolls out the welcome mat at an open house. There’ll be live demonstrations by Sheltowee Trace Artisans, which is a juried craft guild, and plenty of munchies to quell your appetite as you peruse pottery hand thrown on the wheel by potter Carol Howe. Her creations include cups, bowls, vases, candle lamps and kitchen crocks with lead-free, nontoxic glazes made onsite. (And every item is safe for ovens, microwaves and dishwashers.)
Just seven miles east on 90, The Falls
4-H Mountain Craft Center will celebrate Crafters’ Day with live music and more demonstrations and food. Housed in an 1842 log cabin five miles from Cumberland Falls, the center features eclectic, non-juried traditional and non-traditional crafts, all handmade in McCreary County.
A little farther east, Eagle Falls Lodge will host the Red Bud Jam, with live music, crafters and a classic car show from noon until 6 p.m. A great overnight option, the lodge features 50 rooms with Jacuzzi suites, a restaurant and ice cream parlor, an RV park, general store, swimming pool, private fishing lake and whitewater rafting.
Bring your sturdy walking shoes for another Redbud Day event in the Parkers Lake area. At 1:30 p.m., a Redbud Hike (rated easy to moderate) will leave from Farm House Inn Bed and Breakfast at Good Spring Farm and meander past waterfalls, rock houses and cliffs in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
If nature speaks your language, consider a weekend stay at the 1920s-era Farm House Inn, where large windows in the dining area overlook the pastureland that has been owned and worked by the Taylor family for more than 100 years.
While you’re in the area, be sure to take a gander at the “Niagara of the South,” the 150-foot-wide Cumberland Falls. In the daytime, this magnificent wall of water tumbles 67 feet to the river below, while on a clear, full-moonlit night, it boasts the only known moonbow in the northern hemisphere.
Cruise into Whitley City for a Dixie Whopper burger at the Dairy Barn, an original ’50s diner with carhop service. Then chug down to Stearns to check out the McCreary County Museum and the reconstructed 1902 Barthell Coal Mining Camp, with a company store, 12 miners’ houses, a school house and antique cars, circa 1903 to 1934.
Catch a ride on the Big South Fork Scenic Railway as it winds 16 miles through the awe-inspiring Cumberland Gorge to the restored historic Blue Heron Mining Camp. Through recorded voices of the people who lived and worked there, this outdoor “ghost building” museum illustrates the rugged, isolated life in the coal community from 1938 to 1962, when the mine employed some 300 workers.
For a map of the Redbud Trail, visit the Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association’s Web site at www.tourseky.com.