In 2012, there were just 330 people employed at Knott County mines, a decline of more than 63 percent from the previous year, according to a report by the state's Department for Energy Development and Independence. Neighboring Breathitt County saw a similar decline in jobs of 68 percent last year.
After the coal operators finished mining this site, it was reclaimed in accordance with federal law, which typically means it must be repopulated with plantings and restored to its original land contours. Political leaders and coal industry supporters have touted these lands as prime real estate in a region full of jagged, hilly terrain. But business development has been spotty. An Associated Press review in 2010 found that less than 2 percent of more than 345,000 acres of reclaimed mining lands in eastern Kentucky had been designated for either commercial or residential development.
Wilson said Knott County has a challenge ahead of it in figuring out how to tie the ATV park to the local economy. It has two major annual horseback riding events in the spring and summer that attract thousands, but there is a shortage of lodgings and eateries in Knott where tourism dollars can flow in.
"It's great when you're serving that many people, you have thousands of people coming in," she said. "But when all that is outside your community, it goes with them when they go, and usually it's dollars that that community needs to catch."
The park was recently awarded a $100,000 grant that Owens said would mostly go toward the development of 20 miles of trails and installation of public restrooms at the site.
If You Go...
MINE MADE ADVENTURE PARK: Located in Leburn, in eastern Kentucky, http://www.knottcountyadventure.com/minemade.html. Free admission.