For the past 12,000 years, people have been drawn to the forest for its natural resources, beauty and their survival. From quarrying flint for stone tools and burning the woods for better hunting, to our present day forest management which yields wildlife habitat, high quality timber and clean water, the forest has changed dramatically.Just as human history changes over time, so does forest history. As trees age, they decline in vigor and health. Removal of older trees provides sunlight to the forest floor which helps young trees grow healthy. This forest is managed for a diversity of habitat which provides different types of living spaces for a variety of animal life. As you drive the 11 mile Zilpo Scenic Byway, take time to explore the side trails and turnoffs to learn more about how the forest has changed over time. You may glimpse a flock of turkey or see a doe and her playful fawn, or view a cliffline where several species of plants and animals call home. The Daniel Boone National Forest is an exciting place to explore, and this Byway tour will provide you with a glimpse of what the forest has to offer.
Picturesque Clear Creek Lake was developed to reduce flooding and provide a quiet place to fish and view wildlife. Ducks and geese are frequent visitors during the fall migration using this lake, and others like it, to rest and feed in preparation for the flight ahead. If you take the short trail through the woods on the western edge of the lake bring your binoculars for wildlife viewing is close at hand along this trail.
In the 1800's, America was in need of iron for everything from household pots to wheels for trains. The remains of a blast furnace dominate the site at the picnic area. This furnace produced an average of 3 tons of iron a day devouring half an acre of trees in the process. The Kentucky hillsides, rich in natural resources, not only provided the iron ore but also provided the necessary limestone and trees used in the iron making process.Hand-cut limestone, stacked 40 feet tall with an inside diameter of 10 1/2 feet, make up the chimney - the core of the iron making process. A small village complete with a store, school, laundry service and church once sat on this site. Get out and explore the area, where might the old wagons have traveled? Where would the water channel have been that was used to power the magnificent bellows, imagine the noise of the furnace and above it the sound of children playing.In contrast to the 1800's iron furnace is a 20th century experimental fiber reinforced foot bridge, also found at this site. This 60-foot lightweight bridge, developed by the University of Kentucky, is the first of its kind in the world. Much like the hand-cut limestone of the iron furnace this bridge was assembled by hand on site without the use of heavy equipment. Crossing this bridge will connect you to the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, which winds its way south, from here, into Tennessee. At the top of the hill take a left on road 918 toward Zilpo campground.
At least 12,000 years ago the first humans were attracted to the hills that dominate this part of Kentucky. At this stop a short dead end trail takes you past an outcropping of chert, once used to mine flint for stone tools, making survival a little easier. Trees provided food and other resources, abundant wildlife, rivers teeming with fish and mussels added to food supplies, while the rock cliffs provided shelter. The combination of these made for an ideal living situation the first Americans found essential for survival.
On your left is an overlook which shows you what the forest looked like to these early people. Through the ages this forest has changed as has most of America's forested land. Reckless cutting for charcoal production and timber and the clearing of land for farming had taken their toll, but the regrowth of this renewable resource is evident as you look out over this point.The Cumberland National Forest, now Daniel Boone National Forest, was established in 1937 by President Roosevelt. The daunting task of reestablishing America's forest fell onto the newly created National Forest system and the Civilian Conservation Corps. Suppressing fires, planting trees and providing a suitable habitat for natural regeneration of the forest began. The forest you see now is the result of the dedication and farsightedness of President Roosevelt and the USDA Forest Service.
The Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail commemorates the early explorers of Kentucky and is easily accessible at this point. Sheltowee, which means Big Turtle, was the name given to Daniel Boone by Shawnee Chief Black Fish, who adopted Daniel as his son because he admired his strength and courage. The trail is 269 miles long. It starts 38 miles north of here and ends in Tennessee .Taking this trail for a short distance, you will encounter signs that explain forest management on the Daniel Boone National Forest.From this point forward on the Byway you will be in the Pioneer Weapons Wildlife Management Area. Bow and arrow, blackpowder, and crossbow are the only types of hunting weapons allowed in this portion of the Forest.
A wonderful short trail (300 feet) will get you into the forest to a point for quiet reflection. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said of forests: "In the woods we return to reason and faith. Society will always need clean water, clean air, open spaces and deep forests as places for serenity and spiritual renewal." The forest is always changing, each season brings a different feel to the woods. Spring - new growth and renewed hope; summer - fulfillment; fall - vibrant fall colors; and winter - restfulness and serenity. Enjoy this short hike and see what the forest has to offer.
Tater Knob Fire Tower was built on solid rock by dedicated men of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The tower was first erected in 1934, using only hand tools and mules. Using the mules in combination with a pulley system, materials were hoisted to the top where construction of the 35 foot tower began. What you see today is the reconstructed 1959 tower. Previous to this 10x10 foot structure, a larger 14x14 foot wood structure was home to lookouts who lived in the tower during the fire season. A wood stove, two cots, a cabinet, storage box, small table and stool shared the space with the all important alidade, or "fire finding tool". Many a day were spent scanning the horizon in search of devastating fires. By the 1970's aircraft replaced towers and many were dismantled or left to rot.In 1993, Tater Knob Fire Tower was restored thanks to many volunteers. It is the last remaining fire tower open to the public on the Daniel Boone National Forest and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.Before descending down the hill into Zilpo campground, there is an expansive overview of Cave Run Lake. From this point, you can see across the lake to Twin Knobs Campground and beach.
In 1898, from this point, you would have been looking at numerous settlements located along the shores of the Licking River. A narrow gauge railroad known as the Licking River Valley Railroad connected the towns and moved lumber and supplies through the valley. Trees as large as seven feet in diameter were cut to provide lumber for a growing nation. By 1906, the timber supply was depleted and by 1913 most of the towns were empty and only a few hardy survivors remained. Even the buildings were torn down, the lumber being shipped out to be used elsewhere. In 1969, the Corps of Engineers finished the dam that created the 8,270 acre Cave Run Lake. Built as a flood control lake, Cave Run offers exceptional recreation opportunities, such as campgrounds, boat ramps, picnic areas, marinas, and beaches.
One mile down the hill you will enter Zilpo Recreation Area. This is a US Fee area with an entrance fee charged. Zilpo is a wonderful place to enjoy a beautiful beach on Cave Run Lake. At the small country store you may find refreshing drinks, and sundries. Sit a spell on the porch and enjoy the peacefulness and beauty in this area of the Daniel Boone National Forest.