Author – Hunter Dycus
Did you know that our beautiful Red River Gorge could have ended up being a giant lake? Imagine all the wonderful sights and sounds that we’ve all come to know and love being underwater – it’s almost unthinkable! If you have ever visited Red River Gorge, you owe a huge thank you to countless individuals for their combined efforts to preserve this spectacular piece of Kentucky.
Red River Gorge is a magnetic place that attracts people from all over the world. It’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to visit here. You can hike, rock climb, zipline, go horseback riding, underground kayaking in a cave, find majestic waterfalls and look out across thousands of acres of land at points like Chimney Top Rock – and that’s just naming a few things! Red River Gorge is a National Natural Landmark, National Archeological District and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, the 29,000+ acres of #RRG also houses the Clifty Wilderness Area, which is protected under the Wilderness Act of 1964. These expansive titles may seem arbitrary but have ultimately led to the intense protection of this wonderful place that so many call ‘home’.
In 1962 there was a flood, aptly named ‘The Great Flood of Clay City’. This intense flooding was the worst seen in over 100 years. This flood led locals and government officials to lobby for construction of a flood control dam. Approved by the U.S. Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers began to take action. Groups of locals began gathering to protest the newly approved dam. Many of these locals had been living on these lands for centuries, passed down to them from their relatives. This small, local opposition would not be able to compete with the larger force of government officials and other groups pushing for flood control.
Photo from West Virginia Public Broadcasting
It was then that the Sierra Club decided to step in and oppose these developments. Formed in 1892 by John Muir and a group of friends to protect California’s mountains, the Sierra Club is the self-titled ‘most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States’. This mass organization of mostly volunteers currently has over 3.8 million members and goes on over 15,000 trips annually.
In order to obtain more coverage, the Sierra Club invited Supreme Court Justice William Douglas to join them in a hike to protest the building of a dam in the area. Armed with a Supreme Court Justice and over 600 hikers, the Sierra Club ran the Dam Protest Hike of 1967, gaining local and national coverage of their battle. They hiked roughly 2.5 miles in the lower Gorge. Douglas claimed the Army Corps of Engineers was “public enemy number one” and stated that these natural waterways are “very, very unique and becoming very, very extinct.”
Photo from Lexington Herald Leader
The fight to preserve Red River Gorge would last decades, with countless lawsuits and political input. RRG gained National Natural Landmark status in 1975. In 1993, President Bill Clinton would declare a 19.4-mile stretch of the Red River as a National Wild and Scenic River System – which eliminated any chance of a dam ever being built on these waters. In 2003, Red River Gorge was designated a National Archaeological District and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In total, over 40 years were spent creating and protecting the Red River Gorge that we all know and love. It’s amazing to see what a small group of dedicated individuals can accomplish. Our team at StayOver is eternally grateful to everyone that spent countless years battling to keep Red River Gorge one of the most beautiful places around – not only in Kentucky, but the world!