Pioneer Week at Carter Caves State Resort Park
OLIVE HILL, Ky. — You can party like it 1789 this coming week.
Experience what Kentucky was like more than 200 years ago as re-enactors from around the country make their way to Carter Caves State Resort Park, Monday, July 22 through Sunday, July 28 for the 22nd annual Pioneer Life Week.
The pioneer encampment near the park campground is open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 28.
Some of the programs include tomahawk throwing, black powder rifle demonstrations, flint knapping, spinning and weaving demonstrations, cabin chinking, primitive fire making, horn smithing demonstrations, and pioneer clothing interpretation.
On Saturday, July 27, get a taste of county fairs the old-fashioned way during Country Fair Day that will feature old farm tools and machinery, woodcarving, seed spitting, flint knapping, pottery making, pioneer toys, flute music, a pie auction and a free ice cream social at 4 p.m.
And during the week, the restaurant will have a “Buffalo Buffet” including buffalo ribs and roast on Friday, July 26.
Park naturalist Coy Ainsley, who himself has become a pioneer re-enactor thanks to Pioneer Week, said the week is just a great way for area residents or tourists to come into the park and into the encampments to learn first-hand knowledge about the ways of pioneers and Native Americans in a wide variety of subjects.
“A lot happened here having that big Ohio River and all of the tributaries coming into it. Eastern Kentucky was rich in wildlife and other resources,” Ainsley said. “There is some amazing history that happened right here and a lot of folks will be here who really researched that history and now are interpreting it to many folks. They really love the history of our area and really enjoy telling that story to people.”
One incredible new addition to Pioneer Life Week is that Saltpeter Cave, located on the hill across from the Welcome Center, it has reopened for tours. The park will be conducting a few living history lantern tours of the cave for the first time since the summer of 2008.
The park now has regular walking tours and lantern tours (at 1 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday) into Saltpeter, which is on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to its role in mining saltpeter for gunpowder during the War of 1812.
But during Pioneer Week, those lantern tours are led by pioneer re-enactors who bring the cave to life with stories of its colorful past.
Ainsley said they’re excited to have the cave reopened since it had been closed since Labor Day 2008 because of the threat of white nose syndrome in the bat population.
“As far as historic significance at Carter Caves that is the number one significant part of the history around here,” Ainsley said. “For years after it was shut down we tried to do some above ground interpretation of what happened in Saltpeter Cave and how they extracted saltpeter to make gunpowder and those went over OK. But when it’s 100 degrees who wants to sit around a campfire and boil history down?”
Ainsley said the historical lantern tours will have re-enactors who can go into a little more depth letting folks see what those miners saw in the caves in the early 1800s when it was lit by torches instead of electric light.
“That’s the best way to see it, during Pioneer Life Week when we are doing the living history tours, plus it will be about 40 degrees so it’s the best place in the summertime,” Ainsley said.
For folks visiting during Pioneer Life Week, there are also regular tours as well as flashlight tours of both X-Cave and Cascade as well as a host of other activities at the park, including canoe trips, hiking, golf, mini-golf, fishing, camping, swimming. And Carter Caves is one of the only state parks in the region where you can take guided horseback rides.
Ainsley said this special week is a great time to visit the park which sees a nice boost to mid-week tourism.
“It falls in the middle of summer, so the park is already pretty busy but we see a major increase in the number of people coming to the park during the week, especially, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and so the campgrounds and lodge and cottages are filling up more than a regular summertime week,” Ainsley said. “A lot of people I come across schedule their time off to be that week every year, and we’ve had a lot of folks who have been coming here during this time for years.”