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Natural Bridge and the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky

As a child, I took for granted the gorgeous place I call home. The Red River Gorge, Natural Bridge area truly is a wonder to behold!

Kentucky's Red River Gorge is a breathtaking place to visit.

Kentucky's Red River Gorge is a breathtaking place to visit.

Red River Gorge Geological Area

The Red River Gorge Geological Area is a National Natural Landmark run by the forest service in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Visitors come here from all over the world for a variety of reasons. "Something for everyone" is not just a catchphrase here, and it only takes a look around to see why. The locals extend a hearty welcome to one and all, and the food here is fantastic!

Tucked in the mountains of eastern Kentucky are at least 200 rock bridges and arches, many of which remain unexplored. If you enjoy looking for rare vegetation as you hike, just park your vehicle and hit the trails. You won’t be disappointed! You’ll find kayaking, fishing, rock climbing, zip-lining and swimming all summer and into the fall.

Some people prefer admiring the scenery from the comfort of their car as they drive the loop (77 east to 715, south on 715 to go west on 15.) Stop by the Gladie information center for maps, books and lots of historical information about the area. There are plenty of places along the way to linger awhile, make some new friends and share good conversation along with wonderful food of every variety.

Natural Bridge State Resort Park

Natural Bridge State Resort Park is located in Powell and Wolfe Counties surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest. The central focus of the park is the natural sandstone arch which spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. The view from the top of Natural Bridge is breathtakingly gorgeous.

The park was originally a private tourist attraction owned by the Lexington and Eastern Railroad. Folks from as far away as Cincinnati would ride the excursion train down for a pleasant respite from city life. When the state park system was put in place in 1925, Natural Bridge became one of the original four state parks. It continues to be a peaceful oasis in the desert of life for a number of city dwellers as well as locals who have come to appreciate this treasure in their own backyard.

There are 20 miles of trails for hikers to choose from, ranging from moderate to strenuous in difficulty. The 0.5 mile 'original' trail is the most popular one, leading to the top of Natural Bridge, probably because it leaves you with enough energy to enjoy the rest of your day in the park. Guests of the Hemlock Lodge and the general public have access to the river-style swimming pool until closing time at 7:00 pm each evening. Two campgrounds and numerous cottages for rent provide lodging for visitors also.

When hunger strikes, you will have a number of places to choose from, offering a plethora of down-home dishes as well as a variety of more exotic cuisine.

Richard Jett called the square dances and taught the crowds that flocked to Hoedown  Island.

Richard Jett called the square dances and taught the crowds that flocked to Hoedown Island.

Hoedown Island and Richard Jett

Hoedown Island at Natural Bridge State Park is the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights all summer long. It's been this way for well over 50 years now, ever since a young man named Richard Jett began calling and teaching square, round and line dances there every weekend. He inspired all who knew him with his ever-positive attitude, never failing to encourage young people to use the talent God gave them while generously providing opportunities for them to do so.

Mr. Jett was a lifelong educator and his ability to instruct even the youngest of dancers was truly amazing. Everyone who crossed the little wooden bridge to Hoedown Island was welcomed and included in the night's events. Friendships and romances bloomed and memories to last a lifetime were made on those moonlit nights. Many times on Saturday nights before he played the last song, "A Good Time Had By All," he reminded everyone to be in the Lord's house come morning.

On a Saturday night in 2006, while starting the music for the next dance, Mr. Jett suddenly became very ill. With his typical concern for the Hoedown Island 'family' of locals and visitors, he whispered to his assistant, "keep dancing." Sadly, the music fell silent that night as he was lovingly carried to be with the Great Master that he had spoken of so often through the years.

When you cross that little wooden bridge to Hoedown Island today, the same welcome atmosphere surrounds you that Richard Jett made a part of this place from the beginning. Jane Bolin, his assistant, continues the tradition that he started. Every weekend from May through October, the old familiar 'regulars' join with all the fresh new faces. As long as there's music on Hoedown Island, they'll keep dancing and "a good time will be had by all"!

Jane Bolin continues the traditions started by Richard Jett.

Jane Bolin continues the traditions started by Richard Jett.

© 2013 Wilma Henry