I’ve been looking desperately for opportunities to build mountain bike trails in my home county and the surrounding environs. The eastern end of the county dips into the Daniel Boone National Forest, but the local ranger district is somewhat obstructionist when it comes to recreational pursuits. And I’m not talking discrimination against single user groups. They pretty much wish we’d all go away.
There’s also a very popular state park with large tracts of forested land, but unlike Colorado state parks (or even other Kentucky state parks) they also would rather keep the public out of the public lands than to actually abide by their mandate and manage the lands responsibly.
Both land management agencies cry poverty, but they can afford to have a local private contractor come in and dig tank traps to keep the public out of their public lands. It’s sad that my home county cannot take advantage of the natural and cultural resources that exist within our own watershed, that state and federal agencies from outside can prohibit even the responsible exploitation of our resources, and that we are continually kept from thriving as an outdoor recreational tourism center like we could.
No, we’re limited to those token uses of vanilla hiking and Pigeon Forge type gift shopping for people from out of town who can afford to spend money. Well, we have ATVing and zip lining nowadays anyway. Whoo. Hoo.
In an area that has such a perfect landscape for rock climbing, mountain biking, and other such activities there should be a strong local community of outdoor enthusiast working on improving conditions, building and maintaining trails and use areas, and working with the land managers and other user groups to preserve those things which need to be preserved.
But instead of locals we have outsiders that have to come in and do everything that does manage to get done but little else. I’m not knocking these outsiders—and some have even chosen to relocate here—but they don’t have the same level of cultural investment. They aren’t injected into the local community network in the same ways. The long time locals are the ones that can get things done, that have the knowledge and connections to bring about the right kind of changes, and who stand to gain or lose the most.
I’ve been criticized in the past for not being a local to Powell County. This is a chronic problem in rural America. It doesn’t matter how long you live in a place; if your mama and grandmama don’t live down the street, and you’ve lived somewhere else other than an army base, then you ain’t a local. I’ve been guilty at looking at others this way too.
My problem is that I’ve moved away, moved back, moved away, moved back, moved away, moved back, and one last time I’ve moved away and then moved back. Despite my tours of duty in other places I have spent the majority of my life in Powell County. I’ve lived a total of thirteen years in three other states and the other twenty-six years of my life between Clay City, Stanton, Slade and rural Powell County. I’ve lived a full 2/3 of my life in the County. Both of my children were born here. Most of my family lives here. Heck, most of my in-laws live here. And yet I have been accused of being an outsider with outsider ideas.
Someone behind a cash register once asked my father-in-law where he was from. Stanton, he replied. No, where are you from? Stanton. But your accent… I’m originally from New York, but I’ve lived in Stanton for 20 years. Doesn’t matter, you’re still an outsider. It’s how we’ve been conditioned to respond. Us versus them.
Why can’t someone who has chosen to become a part of the community you live in have an equal say? Why does tenure matter more than talent or passion? People who have lived in one place a long time seem to me to be more set in their ways and less likely to want to change even poor situations. New ideas are not bad. They shouldn’t be embraced simply because they’re new, but they also should not simply be dismissed for the same reason.
So what am I doing about it?
As much as I can. Everything I can. We have a Transition group in Powell County now. We’re having a Community Summit in November. Mandy and I, along with others, have been talking about starting a running group and/or a bike club. I don’t see it as a way to socialize and have a reason to ride as much as I see it as a small pocket of local bike/ped advocacy. Socializing and riding are good too though. The new KyMBA chapter is mostly a dream right now, but I think it’s important, and I think if we can find that right parcel of land for trails it will become vitally important.
The hurdles are the usual suspects: resistance to change, comfort in the status quo, feelings of helplessness in the big scheme of things, and lack of vision or will to put forth the dreams that we have.
My time away from home has empowered me somewhat. I’ve gained the perspective I sought. I’ve gained experience I needed and didn’t realize I lacked. I’ve matured and gained some confidence and status through my efforts of the past few years. While it seems to me that 40 years old is late in the game to become an advocate for positive change, it also seems to be the best time for me.
I find I don’t get discouraged so easily these days. I’m much better at letting the negative noise fade into the background and keep plugging ahead toward my goals. I’ve lived a few dreams and reached a few goals so I know that dogged persistence is the key. If you can wait them out your dreams are on their way.