Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hunters Bluff Preserve

Hunter Bluff Topo Hunters Bluff comprises what was once called the Dawson Cliffs. In the early 1900’s the nearby city of Dawson Springs once thrived with numerous mineral resorts and spas, and people came from all over the United States to soak in the healing waters. When people weren’t taking advantage of the natural springs and cultural amenities, they were out hiking the surrounding countryside.

In the book Hopkins County, Lisa D. Piper states, “The resort town of Dawson Springs had plenty of outdoor activities . . . There were many cliffs and bluffs to explore, and people hiked the trails, visiting rock formations, nooks, and lookout areas” (p. 93). She also notes, “The Dawson Cliffs became the place where hikers chiseled  out their name and the date of their visit on the rocks. It was around this Dawson3area that sights like Point Lookout, Counterfeiter’s Cave, and Bandit’s Cave were found” (p. 92). These notable landmarks have been forever preserved in old postcards from the era.

Thankfully, many of these legendary hiking sites are now open to the public due to generous donations from the former land owners. The top of Hunters Bluff, where Point Lookout is located, now lies on the property of the Jones-Keeney Wildlife Management Area, owned and operated by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. The base of the Bluff now lies on the property of the Nature Conservancy, which accepted this tract of land as a donation from Kenneth Oldham in 1992.

Hunters Bluff holds an abundance of curiosities for the nature lover. The Nature Conservancy website describes the location as follows: “This preserve protects a small tract of old growth forest and a population of rare bugbane.” “The cliff tops support an unusually dry forest for the region with much Virginia pine. The bottomland includes swampy areas as well as an unusual second-growth forest including plants such as ginseng, goldenseal, glade knotweed, and rushfoil.”

To access Point Lookout located at the top of Hunters Bluff, travel three miles west of Dawson Springs on U.S. Highway 62, and look for the gravel road and Jones-Keeney WMA sign on the left. Follow this gravel road to the first gravel parking area on the right, and then hike the trail west to the top of the cliff where you will recognize Point Lookout and take in breathtaking and unparalleled views.

Jones Keeney Tradewater 012 To access the base of Hunters Bluff travel four and one-half miles west of Dawson Springs on U.S. Highway 62, first passing the Jones-Keeney WMA sign on the left, and then descending a hill and passing the shooting range on the left; and then you will park at the small gravel pull-off located on the left side of the highway just before crossing the bridge. From the parking area you will hike a dirt road south to the base of the Bluff where you can observe one hundred fifty foot tall cliffs and boulders as large as houses strewn across the ground.

Access to the base is limited. The Nature Conservancy website Jones Keeney Tradewater 046states, “Due to the sensitivity of the site, the preserve is open to the public only through Conservancy guided hikes.” Therefore, hike at your own discretion; or contact the Nature Conservancy at 642 West Main Street, Lexington, KY 40408, Phone: (859) 259-9655.

Magnificent vistas and unique rock formations await visitors of Hunters Bluff. Please be careful, as many people have fallen from the high cliffs and been killed. The base of the Bluff contains graffiti, litter, and rock climbing bolts. Please do not contribute to the degradation of this natural and historic site. Remember to “take only pictures” and “leave only footprints.” Respect and conservation of this site should contribute to keeping its access open to the public for generations to come.