An overgrown picnic area on the east side of US Route 31-E. in Lucas, Kentucky has received new life now repurposed as a mountain bike trail. The more than 140 acres of land had previously been leased by the Kentucky Department of Parks, but in September 2018 the state requested a lease relinquishment due to decreased recreational use by the public. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees at Barren River Lake were soon approached by Southwest Kentucky Mountain Bike Association (KyMBA), a chapter of the international Mountain Bike Association, about utilizing the site for the development of a new trail.
“Southwest KyMBA was already a familiar face to Barren River Lake staff since they are the managing partner for the Twisted Oliver Trail at Port Oliver Recreation Area [in Scottsville, KY],” said Barren River Lake Natural Resources Specialist Dan Taylor.
Once Southwest KyMBA was brought on as a managing partner the process really took off. While Southwest KyMBA brought on a professional trail builder to survey the land and begin flagging the two proposed loops of the trail system totaling about eight-ten miles, Barren River Lake staff began working to secure the required cultural and environmental clearances to begin development of the trail. By August 2020 construction on Highlander Trail had begun.
Construction began solely with volunteer labor and equipment from Barren River Lake, but in October 2020 Barren River Lake partnered with Southwest KyMBA, Friends of Barren River Lake & Park, Cave Country Trails, and the Barren County Evening Lions Club to be awarded a USACE Headquarters funded Handshake Grant. In March 2022, those funds were used to award a contract to a professional trail builder to complete construction on the War Hammer Loop of the Highlander Trail System.
By the time construction of the War Hammer Loop was complete, Southwest KyMBA had contributed over 60 percent of the total cost and more than 2,000 volunteer hours. Its completion makes it the first mountain bike trail in Barren County and the second for Barren River Lake.
The Highlander Grand Opening Trail Fest took place Aug. 19 in Lucas, Kentucky. More than 200 people attended the event, both locals and visitors from nearby counties, featuring both trail runs and mountain bike races for all ages along various lengths of the 4.5-mile War Hammer Loop. War Hammer Loop features two jump lines and two flow trails, and is loaded with berms, tables and rollers, climbs and descents.
“Mountain biking, hiking and trail running have all become very popular outdoor activities in the last few years, with mountain biking being one of the fastest growing sports in the country,” said Taylor. “This trail will be an essential part of the growth of eco-tourism for Barren County and the Barren River Lake area as a whole. The addition of Highlander Trail to Barren River Lake and the already popular Twisted Oliver Trail, Barren River Lake will be a destination spot for mountain biking in the region. We also see this new trail as a way to get our recreating public to reconnect with the great outdoors and further promote the fostering of healthier communities through nature rich activities.”
“Our passion is to get people out on the trail and live healthier lives,” added Southwest KyMBA President, Chip Winger.
As managing partner, Southwest KyMBA will take responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of the trail moving forward and has already begun scheduling future races.
“We can’t say enough about the value in great partners,” said Taylor. “Southwest KyMBA has been a great trail steward from their first involvement with USACE at Nolin River Lake to the two trails that we now have at Barren River Lake. In these fiscally challenging times, it is our partners that allow us to offer these new trail systems to our recreating public. We look forward to working with Southwest KyMBA on the development of Bagpipe Burner Loop at Highlander, which will complete that trail system.”