LEBURN, Ky. (AP) — An eastern Kentucky county hit hard in recent years by the region's dwindling coal industry has built a tourist attraction on the remains of an old Appalachian mine.
All-terrain vehicles and motorbikes now zoom along the hilly terrain in Knott County that was left behind when mine operators shut down operations and left, taking good-paying jobs with them.
Now the mining site, renamed the Mine Made Adventure Park, is buzzing with the sound of two-stroke engines as all-terrain vehicle, dirt bike and horseback riders dot the wide-open landscape, bringing with them the potential for a tourism boost to the economy.
"We have to develop an alternate economy, and finding that alternate economy that can provide sustainable jobs," said Shawn Owens, Knott's tourism director. "You know, coal miners were making $20 and $25 an hour here, and those jobs are gone now."
Inside the park there are no obvious signs to visitors that it was once a coal mine, except for an old company posting that stands at the entrance. After a ride up the hill, there are panoramic views in all directions of the surrounding hills and hollows. The park, which has been developed in recent years, has about 100 miles of trails, and there are wide dirt paths everywhere, at differing elevations.
"It's awesome," Elaine Wilson, Kentucky's adventure tourism director, said of the ATV park. "There's huge potential there."
There is no admission to the park, but riders must bring or borrow an ATV. In such a remote area, ATV rentals are hard to come by.
Owens took an Associated Press reporter on an ATV ride around the park. The two-seater quickly accelerated to 30 miles an hour as it glided — though not too gently — over the dirt trails on a cool November day.
Taking a break from the ride, Owens explained that ATVs are commonplace in eastern Kentucky, since they can be used for utility or fun.
"It's an experience like none other because you can ride perfectly smooth roads or you can turn down in a hollow and get into more aggressive terrain," he said.