February is here and Hike Two is just about a week away. The terrain changes a little on this hike with more single track through the woods and the views improve. Be sure to enjoy the shore walk, the creek crossings, and the climbs. It only gets better from here.
Here is a look at some of the other interesting sites that you can see on Hike Two as we make our way from Morehead to Clear Creek with a night around the campfire at the Stoney Cove.
Leaving the parking lot at the Convention Center and the Morehead Police Station, the Sheltowee Trace makes its way south on Main Street. Nearly a half a mile into the walk, hikers will cross Highway 32 for the first time and into an old section of town that was known as Brady.
Brady was one of the first suburbs of Morehead to develop as the city grew and expanded. Workers and tradesmen from the city and the nearby lumber yards built modest homes beginning in the early 1900s in this quiet and peaceful addition. Many of the older homes still remain.
Brady has since been absorbed into the city of Morehead and is home to the new Rowan County Judicial Center and the County Courthouse. You will pass the newly constructed building on the left as you head toward the end of Main Street. There are few mentions of Brady today except the continued listing of the small community on many old maps.
At the end of Main, turn left, cross Highway 60, and head to Clearfield.
Clearfield, Kentucky, 41303
Clearfield, Kentucky is a small town that has nearly been absorbed into the city limits of Morehead. The small community, which sits on the banks of Dry Creek and Mill Branch, boasts a post office and a new Dollar General store. In time, this small city was a thriving industrial center with several manufacturers and a population of nearly 1,000.
Dixon Clack established a sawmill in this area in the mid-1800s and employed hundreds in his mill. By 1905, a large timber company from Pennsylvania purchased the area and laid train tracks into the countryside to bring logs to the large mill at this site. The Post Office was established in 1908.
The Clearfield Lumber Company operated at several mills here from 1905 until 1925 and also sold coal in addition to sawn lumber. When larger hardwood trees became harder to find, Clearfield Lumber sold the property and a new company changed the production from lumber to bricks, tiles, pipes, and other clay products.
The Lee Clay Products Company operated here until it closed in 1970. The old buildings that you can still see on the other side of the roadway are the remnants of the Clearfield Lumber Company and the Lee Clay Products building. A closer look will also reveal several old cars from the Morehead and North Fork Railroad which brought logs and coal to the mill from 1905 until 1973. Enjoy these historic buildings from afar- your trek is about to take you back into the woods when you exit Mill Branch.
After climbing out of Mill Branch and onto the gravel Forest Service Road known as Lokeegee Road, the trail is shared in this section with Limestone Bike Trail #109. A series of side trails labeled #109A and #109B will leave the Sheltowee Trace and venture into the woods. Unless you want to add 5-6 miles to your hike do not take these side trails. Be aware of bikers and yield the right of way to them especially on long climbs.
The Sheltowee Trace will pass just below the peak of Limestone Knob. A short side trail leads to the top of this small rise. At 1,435 feet (434 meters), Limestone Knob is the highest point in Rowan County. The viewless summit is accessible via a short trail that is maintained by the Cave Run Chapter of the Sheltowee Trace Association. Cranston Mountain, nearly 1.8 miles away, comes in second in Rowan County at 1,420 feet above sea level.
By taking a quick 0.3 mile hike on a side trail from the Sheltowee Trace and Forest Road 964, Challenge hikers can climb to the top of Amburgey Rocks for a view of the area. To access the top, follow the unmarked, user-trail to the back of the rock and make your way up the separation of the rock via a moderate trail. The top of the Amburgey Rocks is approximately 1,004 above sea level. The large crevice on the side of the rock is the only way to climb to the top of this large, sandstone monolith. From this vantage point, Morehead, Becky Branch, and the Triplett Creek Valley can be seen in the distance through the trees.
Another path to the right after leaving the Sheltowee Trace takes visitors to a better view of the valley a hundred yards at the end of a point. While not as popular as the nearby Lockege Rock, the Amburgey Rocks are free of the garbage and graffiti from years of abuse at Lockege Rock. Take a few minutes to climb to the top and enjoy the view during the early spring or late fall when the leaves are not on the trees. This sandstone pillar is one of the escarpments that comprise the Amburgey Rocks. Four additional outcrops crown the long ridgetop that runs from here northeast toward Morehead.
Cumberland Ranger District Office
The Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail now passes beside the Cumberland Ranger District office just after crossing Highway 801 since the trail was rerouted several years ago. The office and field staff of the Cumberland District oversee the operations of the northern section of the Daniel Boone National Forest including The Red River Gorge, the Clifty Wilderness, and Cave Run Lake.
The office has an interpretive center and restrooms that are both currently closed due to the COVID virus. Plan to visit the center when it reopens to learn more about the mission of the National Forest Service and to enjoy the exhibits about the land they manage.
Rowan-Bath County Line
A twenty-foot walk across the top of the Cave Run dam takes hikers from Rowan County into Bath County (your third county). The transition is without fanfare and most hikers are too mesmerized by the beautiful views to pay any attention to the sign marking the municipal boundary change.
Legislators approved the creation of Bath County in 1811 and today the county has a population of 11,591. The county was named for the natural salt springs that were used as medicinal baths from the early days of settlement. The three largest communities in Bath County are its county seat, Owensville, and the communities of Salt Lick and Sharpsburg.
Rowan County was created by the Kentucky Legislature in 1856 from parts of Fleming and Morgan Counties. Named for Senator John Rowan, the county is home to 23,333 as of 2010. Rowan County is considered “moist” in a state that permits local option votes to determine the legality of alcohol sales. The City of Morehead permits alcohol sales within its boundaries, but the county does not allow sales in any form. Thirty-five of Kentucky’s 120 counties are considered moist.
Cave Run Lake
The United States Army Corps of Engineers operates Cave Run Lake as a recreational and flood control impoundment. The restrained waters of the Licking River created this 8,270-acre lake. The spillway released more than 8,000 gallons of water per minute during normal operations.
The Cave Run Dam project was completed in 1974 at a cost of $83 million. The dam is 173.6 miles upstream of the mouth of the Licking River, which empties into the Ohio River near Covington. The project flooded and forced the relocation of several communities including Lewis Pond, Zilpo, Warix, Yale, and New Alfrey.
At summer pool, Cave Run Lake is 8,270 acres and 48.1 miles long. The winter draw-down is approximately 6-8 feet bringing the pool to 724 feet creates a lake with 7,390 surface acres of water. There are 166 miles of shoreline when at summer pool and more than 50 miles of navigable water.
Cave Run Lake has two public marinas: one at Scott Creek and the second at Longbow. Both are open year-round and offer a variety of amenities. The Corps of Engineers provides lake access and boat launching via 11 boat launching ramps on the lake, and one in the tailwaters.
A variety of fish are found in these waters including sunfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, stripers, catfish, and especially muskellunge. Cave Run Lake is known as the “Muskie Capital of the South.”
Clark Fish Hatchery
In the distance below the spillway of the Cave Run Dam, the Minor E. Clark Fish Hatchery is home to more than 100 fresh-water ponds and comprises more than 300 acres. The hatchery opened in 1972 and is operated by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. The complex is the largest “warm-water” hatchery in the United States and produces more than 4 million fingerlings in its 124 acres of water. These small fish are released into streams across the state. The hatchery also focuses on native mussel protection and production.
The large pools are home to largemouth, smallmouth, muskie, walleye, and several other varieties of fish. The pools of fish often make easy targets for predatory and shore-wading birds. Bald eagles are frequent visitors to the area and can be seen circling the pools or in trees along Cave Run Lake. Blue herons, egrets, osprey, as well as a variety of ducks, take advantage of these shallow pools to feed. The Clark Hatchery also presents educational programming and offers tours of the facilities. The hatchery grounds are open year-round from dawn to dusk.
At the south end of Cave Run Dam once set the community of Lewis Church. The homes and church were purchased and removed during the building of the lake in 1974. The Corps of Engineers constructed the Stoney Cove boat ramp and picnic area on the shore. The area on the flat at the top of the hill will be our camping spot for the 2022 Hike 2. This relatively flat area, which drains into Hog Hollow, was used as a pasture and a barn once sat near our campsite.
The trailhead at Stoney Cove parking area is accessed by the roadway at the end of the dam. From this trailhead, the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail and the Caney Loop Trail trail both venture into the woods but come together a few miles from the White Sulphur Horse Camp Trail. From Stoney Cove, the Sheltowee Trace follows the contours of the lake for the next six miles.
Lake Shore Hike
The Sheltowee Trace follows the in and out of every embayment and tributary that flows into the southside of Cave Run Lake until it reaches Caney Creek. The six miles are only a small portion of the 166 miles of shoreline that the lake has in its summer pool.
The hike offers a variety of beautiful views and lots of wildlife viewing opportunities. Sunrises along the old Caney Loop Trail (now the Sheltowee Trace) are particularly beautiful in the late winter and early spring. This multi-use trail can present mud, ice, rocks, and numerous other hiking challenges, but is a nice hike. The lakeshore hike passes many culturally significant places including the site of the old Caney School which served the children of the area until it was consolidated into the Rowan County School system. Be prepared for some mud and to share this trail with horses and their riders.
Caney Creek and Sulphur Branch
There are two major creek crossings on the hike near the headwaters of Cave Run Lake. Hikers will first encounter Caney Creek. Before the lake was constructed, Caney Creek had three major tributaries including Trough Lick Branch, Hickory Branch, and Sulphur Branch. Crossing Caney Creek can be difficult during times of high water. The crossing can be chest high as the result of backwater from Cave Run Lake. Hikers are encouraged to find an alternate crossing upstream.
After crossing Caney Creek, hikers will encounter Sulphur Branch less than 0.32 miles from the last creek crossing. Between Caney Creek and Sulphur Branch, a half-mile trail leads to White Sulphur Horse Camp. Do not take this trail but continue north on the Sheltowee Trace up the hill and away from any more major water crossings on this hike.
Cedar Cliffs and the Trail
Cedar Cliffs is an area of large limestone outcrops on the top of the hill overlooking Trough Lick Branch, Wolfpen Hollow, and Buck Branch. These limestone pillars contain several smaller arches that are visible from the Sheltowee Trace. This area sits on the border of Menifee and Bath Counties and was used by early settlers as a crossing point from the Clear Creek area to the Lewis Church community.
The National Forest Service created a system of trails along this ridge including the Cedar Cliffs Trail, Buck Branch Trail, and the Cross Over Trail. The Sheltowee runs concurrently with the old Cedar Cliffs Trail for more than a mile before dropping over onto the Buck Branch Trail.
White Tail Management
The Kentucky deer population was at an all-time low in the early 1900s. Several efforts were made to increase the population including the establishment of “buck only” hunting seasons and the failed effort to introduce non-native red deer. In 1946, the Kentucky Division of Game and Fish initiated a whitetail deer repopulation effort which included trapping, relocation, habitat improvement, and the creation of deer refuges. By the 1950s, the first significant rise in state-wide numbers was reported. Over the next five decades, the Commonwealth became one of the top 5 in total deer production and harvesting states.
The Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife and the Corps of Engineers established a series of wildlife study areas in their “working forest” to gauge the impact of the reintroduction of deer to the Clear Creek area. Over the decades since the 1960s, most of these study areas have been removed but several remain near the Sheltowee Trace along the old Cedar Cliffs Trail. At least one of the wire-fenced study areas still remains and one of the original signs can be seen beside the trail.
Buck Branch Trail
Near the end of your hike, the trail will leave the Cedar Cliff and start downhill on the Buck Branch Trail. The Sheltowee Trace and the Buck Branch Trail share 1.6 miles of trail tread as you descend into a peaceful valley filled with beautiful moss and huge trees. This area is named for Buck Creek Hill which stands nearby at 1,188 feet above sea level. Gunshots are often heard in this section of the trail as the Clear Creek Shooting Range is less than a mile and a half away.
The Buck Creek Trail #118 (not to be confused with the Buch Branch Trail) begins at Clear Creek Campground and spurs off the Buck Branch Tail. After a long climb up the mountain, it crosses the Zilpo National Forest Scenic Byway before connecting with Cave Run Lake Trail #116.
Clear Creek Campground
Hike Two ends at the Clear Creek Campground located off Forest Service Road 1117 near the Clear Creek Furnace. The campground operates between the 3rd Friday in March and December 31 each year. Camping sites can accommodate tent camping and RVs and are available on a “first come first serve” basis.
Congratulations!! You have completed the first two hikes and should be settling down into a system for hiking and camping. Go home. Rest. Clean your gear. Start studying and preparing for Hike Three in March.