Wildlands Blog: As part of an immersive, 7-day trip to Eastern Kentucky, students from Georgetown University took to the trails on Pine Mountain this March with Kentucky Natural Lands Trust to learn about the beauty and ecological importance of Kentucky wildlands.
And they didn’t just hike. Eleven students like sophomore Miranda Xiong also helped KNLT with trail repair and clean up at Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve.
The alternative spring break, organized by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Justice, brought students to Harlan County as they met with locals who are working to improve the environment and economy of Eastern Kentucky.
Xiong, who is studying biochemistry, said one of the things that stuck out to her most about the trip was the locals’ pride of place. “People are proud to call Appalachia home,” she said.
Along with visiting KNLT, the students met with retired coal miners, went on the Portal 31 coal mine tour, talked to people building affordable housing, and more.
Blanton Forest, where the students worked and hiked, is the largest old growth forest in Kentucky. KNLT formed in 1995 and partnered with the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves (OKNP) to protect the 2,000-acre old growth tract that became Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve. KNLT’s partnership with OKNP has continued and expanded since then. These days the partnership includes trail maintenance and preserve management along with landscape scale stewardship activities in the region.
On their hikes to Knobby Rock and Sand Cave, Xiong said the group ran into a few salamanders who were out and about after a recent rainfall. Salamanders, along with thousands of other plant and animal species, depend upon the wildlands of Pine Mountain. Collectively these species form the second most biodiverse temperate zone region on Earth.
“It was nice seeing (KNLT’s) efforts in biodiversity conservation,” Xiong said. “KNLT is doing important work.”
“KNLT has partnered with Georgetown University on alternative spring break outings since 2015. We are grateful for their partnership and the assistance they have provided over the years,” said Preston Lacy, KNLT Conservation Director.