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The following is a guest contribution from Sandi Curd who works for Fahe Member Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation.  Sandi serves as the Kentucky Promise Zone Coordinator for southeastern Kentucky which is the first rural area in the nation to receive a Promise Zone Designation.

Sandi’s contribution is part of our Appalachian Travel Guide, a series dedicated to showcasing regional attractions in Appalachia.

So I turned 53. Yes, I know it’s better than the alternative.

But it’s 53 and that deserves some sort of memory making, some sort of milestone, something to commemorate the destination thus far. In the past, Bryan (my husband) and I had visited a city, had a fine meal, and then drove around an historic neighborhood, saying: “Oh that’s a nice house.”

This year, I wanted something different. I wanted to feel it not just taste it.  Chris Jones, founder of the Falls Road Runner, will join you on a birthday run the length in miles equal to your length in years. Well, second-grade math ruled that out. I mean, come on, my b-day is only 24 hours long.

I decided I must ZIP. That’s right, suspend myself on a cable with a pulley and rocket through the air. Pine Mountain has a new zip line and canopy tour. I quickly booked my tickets online before I chickened out. While I was at it, I also reserved a room at the lodge.

Pine Mountain State Park is our oldest state park, beating Cumberland Falls by mere months.  As a matter of fact, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) originally named it Cumberland State Park, but gave up the name to help out their baby sister. The same CCC cleared the roads, built the lodge and the trails. It has become one of our regional treasures.

Our room had a king size bed, a mini fridge, private balcony, soft water shower, and a rocking view of the mountains. Trees to the horizon, 16 different shades of green, mountain ridge behind mountain ridge, each one growing just a bit lighter until they turned into sky.

We ate in the lodge’s Mountain View Restaurant at a table next to a glass wall overlooking the aforementioned beauty. I had the Friday night special of pecan encrusted pork tenderloin, and Bryan had the rib-eye steak. We also had homemade beer cheese with hot pretzel bread and concluded the meal with a real Kern’s Derby Pie a la mode. I would definitely go back for another meal – whether it’s to celebrate a birthday or just give thanks for Friday.

On Saturday, we joined six other zippers at 10 a.m. This was a great day for the new business.  It just opened Memorial Day weekend, and the previous biggest day had to be canceled because storms knocked trees over onto the lines. This day, three sets of zippers would be on the lines.

Our guides were brothers Ben and Dwayne, two red-headed Bell County fellows with Irish roots (they both sport shamrock tattoos).  Ben and Dwayne helped with our harnesses, helmets, and gloves. We began at the lodge with a tiny mini line to make sure we understood how to brake, and then we loaded onto a van and drove 5 minutes to our first line.  The course is seven lines, two repels, and two swinging bridges. You start with a short line and build up to the ‘longest line in Kentucky’ with speeds approaching 40 miles per hour. My concern with braking properly was so keen that I stopped seven times before reaching the next platform and had to be pulled in.

The Pine Mountain Zip Line and Canopy Tour is more than thrills. It has a purpose and that purpose is to save the Eastern Hemlock. An insect, the wooly adelgid, is taking the lives of these centurions at an alarming rate. Remember the forest sadness the pine beetles left as they destroyed all our white pines?  Get ready for a second helping. The trees can be treated, but it’s expensive, and there are a lot of Eastern Hemlocks out there.

In the end, mission was accomplished with boundaries stretched, fears overcome, and memories made. I’ve posted photos as proof on the Kentucky Promise Zone Facebook page. Please follow the Promise Zone on Facebook. We’ll be posting uplifting, regional news, views and opportunities until 2024. It’s a Promise.

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