Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fort Boonesborough State Park (Blog Hike #519)

Trails: Fort and Pioneer Forage Trails
Hike Location: Fort Boonesborough State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Richmond, KY
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A short loop to reconstructed Fort Boonesborough.

Directions to the trailhead: In central Kentucky, take I-75 to SR 627 (exit 95).  Exit and go east on SR 627.  Drive SR 627 east 5.6 miles to SR 388, passing the signed fort entrance on the way.  (Aside: if the fort is open on your visit, you could also start this hike at the fort by turning right into the park’s fort entrance and parking in the blacktop parking lot in front of the fort.)  Turn right on SR 388.  Drive SR 388 0.4 miles to the large trailhead and picnic shelter #4 parking area on the right.  The hike starts beside the picnic shelter.

The hike: The year was 1775 when Daniel Boone led 30 axmen in blazing the Wilderness Road, the famous pioneer trace that passed over the Cumberland Gap and into the Bluegrass region of present day Kentucky.  The goal of the settlers that followed him later that year was to found a fourteenth American colony in the western portion of what was then the colony of Virginia.  They planned to call their colony Transylvania.  The settlers built a fortified community at the Wilderness Road’s northern terminus that consisted of 26 log cabins.  They named their settlement Boonesborough after their wilderness trail blazer.
            Over the next 20 years Boonesborough became a center of pioneer life on the Kentucky frontier.  The arrival of additional settlers caused the community to grow too large for Boone’s liking, so he left Boonesborough to start more new communities nearby.  Kentucky became the fifteenth state to enter the Union in 1792, and 20 years later growth of neighboring communities had reduced Boonesborough to a small obscure village.  The village was abandoned in 1830.
            Over the next century the land was farmed heavily.  In the late 1950’s a proposed dam on the Kentucky River would have submerged the entire area, but the construction plans were cancelled.   Fort Boonesborough State Park was established in 1963.  In 1974 the reconstructed fort you see today was built on a bluff overlooking the Kentucky River.  The original fort was located right on the river near today’s park boat ramp; it is located across SR 388 from this hike’s trailhead.  The reconstructed fort is open for tours April through October from 9am to 5pm Wednesday through Saturday.  A fort tour costed $8 at the time of this writing.
            Unfortunately, I passed through this area on a Tuesday, so I did not get to tour the reconstructed fort.  The parking lot in front of the fort was also closed, so I had to hike to the reconstructed fort from a picnic area using the route described here.  On the bright side, approaching the reconstructed fort on foot through the woods more closely resembles how newly arrived settlers would have approached the actual Boonesborough.
Fort Trail trailhead beside picnic shelter
            From the large picnic shelter parking area, pick up the signed asphalt Fort Trail, which starts to the right of the picnic shelter.  The Fort Trail connects the picnic shelter parking area with the fort parking area 0.3 miles away.  The trail climbs at a steady rate for its entire length as it gains nearly 100 feet of elevation between the picnic shelter and the fort.
Most of the Fort Trail passes through young shrubby forest, but a few areas are more exposed to the sun.  A couple of benches provide opportunities to rest if you get winded.  At 0.25 miles, note the dirt Pioneer Forage Trail that exits downhill to the right; we will take it in a few minutes to begin our return route.
            The Fort Trail ends at the fort parking area at the top of the hill.  To get to the fort, turn left and walk 500 feet across the parking lot to the fort entrance, passing a stone monument to early Kentuckians along the way.  Built out of 10,000 pine logs, the reconstructed fort contains cabins with period furnishings and areas where craftsmen demonstrate period crafts.  Because the fort was closed on my visit, I could only peep through openings in the logs and imagine what it would have been like to live here in the late 1700’s.
Stone monument outside fort entrance
Peeping into the fort through the logs
            The only trail out of the fort area is the Fort Trail you came in on, so after visiting the fort you need to retrace your steps to the Fort Trail’s upper trailhead and begin walking back down the paved path.  For a little variety and to get off of the pavement, I chose to return on the Pioneer Forage Trail, which exits left from the Fort Trail about 200 feet below the upper trailhead.  The Pioneer Forage Trail connects the Fort Trail to the park’s campground, but it also connects to the north end of the picnic shelter parking lot via a spur trail.
            The Pioneer Forage Trail starts with a steep descent over wooden waterbars to reach a small drainage, which it crosses on a shaky wooden footbridge.  The somewhat narrow trail curves right to follow this drainage downstream for several hundred feet.  The damp clay soil was slippery under my feet, so watch your footing.
Descending on Pioneer Forage Trail
            Just as it starts to flatten out, the trail surprisingly curves left and starts heading up another small drainage.  You can see the final segment of the trail on the other side of the drainage, so you have to choose where you want to cross.  Adventuresome hikers could cross on a log or a railroad I-beam that spans the creek, but the official route takes you all the way up the drainage to cross atop a concrete highway culvert.
            Now heading back down the east side of the drainage, just shy of 1 mile into the hike you reach the signed spur trail to picnic shelter #4, which exits right.  Turn right to hike the short spur trail, which crosses the drainage on another shaky wooden bridge before climbing a short distance to reach the parking lot.  A short walk across the hot and sunny parking lot completes the hike.

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