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National Park Service (NPS) in Kentucky

As PBS brings the new Ken Burns’s documentary "The National Parks: America’s Best Idea" to a close, we take a quick tour of the five properties in Kentucky that fall under the National Park Service.

Located in south central Kentucky, Mammoth Cave - the Commonwealth’s only national park - covers more than 52-thousand acres and is the longest cave system in the world.

The park sees half-a-million visitors each year, and more than 300-thousand of them tour the caves.

Mammoth Cave National Park is also one of the greatest protectors of plant and wildlife in the state.

Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area offers plenty of fishing, hiking, camping and a variety of other outdoor activities. It is also the home of Kentucky’s tallest waterfall.

The National Park Service also manages several historic sites in Kentucky – one of them is the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

As the first gateway to the west … to its role in the Civil War, Cumberland Gap’s significance is matched by its abounding beauty – stretching along miles of mountain and including acres of Appalachian wilderness.

Kentucky is also one of nine states included as part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which commemorates the survival of the Cherokee people as they were forced to leave their homelands in the 1830s.

Lastly is the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace in Hodgenville.

This national historic site includes a memorial to the 16th president’s birthplace, and a second location - his boyhood home. The sites are located within miles of each other and can be visited free of charge.

More details on Kentucky's NPS properties:

  • Mammoth Cave was first discovered about 4,000 years ago and was officially established as a park in 1941. Amazingly, even with its long history, no one really knows just how much cave makes up the Mammoth Cave system.
  • Tours of Mammoth Cave began in 1816, making it one of North America’s oldest tourist attractions.
  • More than 1,800 Americans are buried in cemeteries within Mammoth Cave National Park.
  • Mammoth Cave became the core area of an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990.
  • Some 130 animal species use Mammoth Cave on a regular basis, including three endangered species – Kentucky cave shrimp, Indiana bat and Gray bat; Green River (31 miles of which run through the park) is home to more than 80 species of fish.
  • Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is shared with Tennessee.
  • The Cumberland Gap is a major break in the Appalachian Mountain chain, located on the Kentucky-Virginia border. Between 1775 and 1810 approximately 300,000 settlers crossed the Gap seeking to settle and prosper in the west.
  • Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which was designated by Congress in 1987, is made up of nearly 5,000 miles of land and water routes.

Like this story? You may also be interested in our "Louisville Life" feature on the Olmsted Parks Conservancy and the 2000 KET production "Olmsted in Louisville", for information on famed park designer Frank Law Olmsted and his local parks.

For more local ties to President Abraham Lincoln, check out these other Louisville Life stories: Lincoln in Louisville; an interview with Bryan Bush, Lincoln author; a feature on Ed Hamilton, Lincoln Statue sculptor.

Program 401
The fourth season premiere of "Louisville Life" features a retrospective of legendary film director D.W. Griffith, Smith-Berry Vineyard and Winery, areas of Kentucky protected by the National Park Service, the long-standing, award-winning Carmichael's Bookstore and more. (#401)