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Explore Kentucky Initiative founder talks outdoor recreation

Gerry Seavo James

Gerry Seavo James had just finished a 137-mile overnight nonstop standup paddleboard trek on the Ohio River when we spoke on the phone to discuss his work with the Explore Kentucky Initiative.

“It was one of the most tiring things, mentally and physically, that I’ve ever done,” James said. That’s a lot coming from a member of the Air Force.

The former “military brat” and Campbellsville University graduate, quickly fell in love with the state’s underutilized outdoors scene and environmental conservation projects when he moved to Kentucky for school.

After graduating in 2013, his career led him to Louisville, where he launched the nonprofit Explore Kentucky Initiative and is creating a new firm called Ascend. Ascend will provide social media content, photography, videography, graphic design, event planning for outdoors-related organizations, and 10 percent of the proceeds will go back to helping Explore Kentucky.

The 26-year-old Air Force reservist already has proved he can pull off the marketing thing.

In the early days of Instagram, he began using it to share photos of his outdoor adventures and realized he was onto something when people from China were commenting on photos of Cumberland Falls.

Now the EKI offers guided trips, plans volunteer conservation events, assists adventurers with planning excursions around the state and helps educate the public about the opportunities available to explore the state.

His favorite thing to do is standup paddleboarding – better known as SUP – on the Ohio River around Louisville.

“The reason why is because by paddling on the Ohio River it’s me taking back the river,” he said. “Because it’s viewed as a dirty place, industrial and commercial. There’s a Louisvillian sort of generational prejudice against the river. It’s an act of defiance against the cultural norms, and helping others by getting out there. Outdoor recreation is not just about the fun, but it’s the way you become a steward of the land.”

“SUP is my big passion,” said James, an American Canoe Association certified canoe instructor and SUP guide, adding that Kentucky has thousands of waterway miles suitable for SUP.

He encourages other young people to get into the sport because it is so easy to do. Grab some SUPs and head to Big South Fork.

“That’s one of the most under-utilized national parks in the state,” he said, noting that in one quick weekend you can explore majestic waterfalls, rock climb, hike, bike on trails, camp, swim and SUP.