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Exploring Kentucky | Kentucky’s Winter Wonderland

Season’s landscape offers ideal viewing for eagles, elks and more

By Katherine Tandy Brown

An elk stag grazing at the Land Between the Lakes Elk and Bison Prairie.
An elk stag grazing at the Land Between the Lakes Elk and Bison Prairie.

Brilliant architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

The wisdom of his words may be especially difficult to agree with during the cold, sunless days of winter in our commonwealth. Unless you happen to have tickets for an escape to warmer climes, you’re just going to have to deal with what nature brings our way. However, you do have choices. You can stay indoors by a fireside with a hot cuppa tea or a hot toddy to chase your weather woes away. Or you can dress in lots of layers, pull on those Uggs, and embrace the great outdoors in her winter splendor.

Scientific studies show that without a doubt, nature boosts positive emotions and has myriad other physical and mental health benefits. Stepping outside can provide the perfect prescription for recovery from the holiday hubbub. Fortunately, Kentucky has loads of opportunities to embrace Mother Nature in the wintertime.

For instance, you can head to Western Kentucky to take a gander at our national bird. After the banning of DDT in 1972 and re-introduction efforts nationwide in the 1970s and ’80s, the numbers of American bald eagle nesting areas in Kentucky have increased steadily. In 1986, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources reported one known area in the state. By 2017 that number had climbed to 164. The majority of nesting areas are around the Kentucky Lake area, due to its abundance of open water and terrific fishing.

Jan. 26-28 is Eagles Weekend at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park, and you have a choice of packages to view these majestic birds in their natural habitat. On Friday evening a state wildlife biologist presents lots of eagle info. The rest of the weekend options include park staff-led eagle-viewing field trips, eagle-viewing bus tours of the Ballard Wildlife Management Area, and eagle-viewing luxury boat cruises on Kentucky Lake. On Saturday night, the Liberty Nature Center offers a presentation on birds of prey.

“Eagles Weekend is always a popular event,” said Scot Ratzlaff, park manager. “Folks can expect to see a lot of eagles, as well as loons, pelicans, great blue herons and many other birds. If you’re an ornithologist, it’s nirvana!”

You can also ogle eagles at Kenlake State Resort Park. Feb. 2-4 options include a Friday lunch tour, Saturday boat tour and Sunday brunch tour. Feb. 9-10, there’s a Friday boat tour, Saturday brunch cruise, and Saturday dinner cruise, plus the Friday night all-you-wanted-to-know-about-eagles talk and a Saturday evening birds of prey presentation.

The “boat” at both parks is the 96-foot, fully enclosed and heated luxury yacht CQ Princess, which allows cozy viewing through observation windows or above-deck outdoors. On-board staff will chat about the eagles and will help you spot them – tours often see between 10 and 45 – as well as other wildlife such as ducks, coots, loons, coyote and fox.

If you want to make big-time heart points, treat your sweetie to a Kentucky Lake eagle-watching cruise on the gorgeous vessel come Valentine’s Day. The package includes a romantic dinner for two, a one-night stay at the Kentucky Dam Village Inn Lodge, breakfast for two, and a two-and-a-half-hour eagle-watching and dessert-tasting cruise. Reservations are required.

Another outdoor treasure in the Purchase District is the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which includes 170,000 acres of woodlands, trails and water access. In the wintertime, bare trees allow better viewing of the wildlife at the elk and bison prairie on its 3½-mile driving loop, located just a half-mile off U.S. 68. Open from dawn until dusk, the 650-acre prairie is home to a hefty herd of bison and three or four individual groups of elk, though not all animals are visible from the road.

“In the winter months, you can see them more reliably than in summer because the leaves are off the trees, and in cool weather, they’re more willing to be out midday than in the summer heat,” said Curtis Fowler, the prairie’s manager. “The best elk viewing is usually the first few hours of daylight and later in the afternoon.”

Another Kentucky bison herd roams the grounds of Big Bone Lick State Historic Site near Union in Northern Kentucky. On Feb. 17 you can lace up your boots for a refreshing four-mile winter hike through the woods here with the park staff and John Robbins of the Sierra Club. Afterwards, warm up in the new museum, where you can bone up on paleontology, Ordovician geology, Ice Age mammals, Native American history, and the fascinating chronology of science at Big Bone.

And lastly, you can hone your creative skills in the great outdoors at Pine Mountain State Resort Park’s annual Winter Photo Weekend, scheduled for Jan. 26-28. This year’s guest professional is East Tennessean Paul Hassell, whose photographic work has been featured in publications for the National Park Service, National Geographic and National Wildlife. The weekend will be rife with informative classes, friendly competition and awards, networking opportunities and pure, behind-the-lens fun. Packages include a two-nights’ lodge stay, evening buffets and workshop registration.

The weekend brings new meaning to the words “cold snap,” but you’ll be having such a good time, you’ll forget all about the outside chill.

Get Out!

Big Bone Lick State Historic Site
(859) 384-3522

Kenlake State Resort Park
(270) 474-2211

Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park
(270) 362-4271

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
(270) 924-2000

Pine Mountain State Resort Park
(606) 337-3066

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