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Fall in love with the great outdoors

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By John Shindlebower

As we enter July, it’s a slow month for a lot of sports. Baseball fans like myself have plenty to keep us busy each morning, checking out the boxscores and keeping up with the standings, but we’re several weeks from the kickoff of football season and many sports fans don’t know what to do.
Well, this is a perfect month to put down the remote, get off the couch and become a participant instead of a spectator. There are plenty of great activities outside here in Kentucky that can be fun and exciting and will get you moving beyond the brief walk during a commercial to the refrigerator.
Here’s a list of some of the great outdoor adventures that await Kentuckians as we turn off the television and head outside:

HIKING
Kentucky has some of the greatest areas for hiking in this part of the nation. Yes, it’s hot — but your hike can lead you to a mountain stream, a swimming hole or deep in the woods where there’s plenty of shade.
Probably one of the most popular places is the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky. This geographical wonder is a place filled with over 100 natural sandstone arches, numerous waterfalls, steep cliffs and trails of all sizes. Be careful to know where you’re going and stay on the trail, this is a wilderness area and each year there are numerous accidents and often some fatalities resulting in people falling off cliffs. Common sense will keep you safe and you’ll be rewarded by some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. (And for a manmade wonder — be sure to go through the Nada Tunnel.)
There are other great places to hike in Kentucky as well. Land Between The Lakes offers miles of remote trails in that narrow strip of land between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. In addition, you will see wildlife that roamed Kentucky well over 200 years ago, such as large herds of elk and buffalo. Cumberland Gap National Park is a great place with amazing views. Hike to the pinnacle and you can stand in three states at one time, and on a clear day, it’s said you can see all the way into North Carolina. The Breaks Interstate Park is operated jointly by Kentucky and Virginia, and includes the deepest river gorge and canyon east of the Mississippi River. There are more great trails down around Cumberland Falls and a little further south in the Big South Fork Recreational Area.
Close to home here in Spencer County, there are several miles of trails at Taylorsville Lake State Park that are great for a short hike into the woods. Take some water, some insect repellent and enjoy a few hours exploring your own backyard.

PADDLING
Lakes are great fun if you have a boat, but if you want a more peaceful experience away from all the noise — try canoeing or kayaking on one of Kentucky’s streams and rivers. Did you know that Kentucky has more miles of navigatable waterways than any state outside of Alaska?
If you’re into whitewater — head back east to the Breaks or down to the Big South Fork or even the Rockcastle River near Mt. Vernon.  If you simply want a nice trip without having to dodge rocks at high speeds, the Green River is an excellent trip that can take you through the heart of Mammoth Cave National Park. Elkhorn Creek in Frankfort is another great canoe trip that’s made even greater for those who like to fish. It’s one of the best smallmouth streams around.
Again, close to home there’s the Salt River and even better if you can catch it when water levels are moderate – Brashear’s Creek. Most of the time in the summer, the water levels may be kind of low, but when runnable, this is a very enjoyable trip. You can put in at Rivals and paddle all the way down to Ray Jewell Park and enjoy some good swimming holes, fishing and plenty of wildlife.

FISHING
For a $20 license, you can enjoy Kentucky’s wealth of great fishing spots. You don’t need the $20,000 bass boat to get in on the fun either. There’s plenty of good fishing to be had from the shores of Kentucky lakes and rivers. Sometimes a farm pond (with the owner’s permission of course) makes for the best fishing to be found.
My favorite is to find a creek like Brashear’s Creek and spend a couple of hours reeling in smallmouth, bluegill, red ears and an occasional sauger. You’re likely to see a few gar, some of which may startle you by their menacing appearance with a needle nose and sharp teeth, and I’ve seen them in the creek approaching 4 feet in length. The best thing about stream fishing is that it’s a great way to stay cool as you wade into water that’s ankle deep or even chest-high.
Of course, there are those more adventurous souls who like to get a little more hands on. I saw a guy just this past weekend with a catfish that probably exceeded 40 pounds that he caught noodling. Noodling is a fishing technique that requires no bait, no lines, no poles – just your hands and the guts to put your hands under logs, rocks or back in underwater holes feeling for the large fish. Then you grab, wrestle and pull the fish up to the surface and hopefully land him without getting bit, finned or gored.
I might be tempted to try, but only if I was guaranteed that what was underneath that rock was actually a fish – and not some otter or other critter that could remove a few digits from my hand. I think I’ll stick to the conventional fishing.
The main thing is – get off the couch and go enjoy the great outdoors. There are opportunities to enjoy any or all of these activities just a few minutes from your back door, and none of them require that much money. Don’t spend your life watching other people live life – get out there and live it yourself.