Hidden in the middle of the backcountry, on the Kentucky and Tennessee border, is a little know National River and Recreation Area with a family adventure for all ages. An exciting rail excursion takes you through winding forest passes on a 16-mile (round trip) trek into the valley to the location of the Blue Heron mining community. This area was inhabited by workers in the coal mine and their families from 1937 to 1962. As you traverse the hillside, you are greeted by babbling brooks or roaring rivers, depending on the time of the year. Birds sing delightfully and butterflies flutter in the air as the train chugs through the forest. My son sat mesmerized by the action as this was his first ever train ride. The first time to experience the sounds of the wheels on the track, the engine fighting the pull of gravity, the locomotive’s horn blaring into the expansive treetops.
The train makes a stop at the old mine depot, complete with a tipple (train car filling station) and bridge crossing the Big South Fork River. A short walk up a grassy hill and you can enter an abandoned mine to learn about the miners that used to work this land. Hold the tools from a bygone era and feel the stories of the past. These locations are a great place for families to stop to share a moment together where they can discuss the families that used to live in Blue Heron. The contrast of your children’s lives to the lives of children that attended the small schoolhouse there will help them grow a better appreciation for the sacrifices made by past generations and how lucky they are to live in the time they do now. The train returns the passengers back to the visitor center, providing a new perspective from that of the journey into the forest. The Big South Fork Scenic Railway is a great family adventure, hidden in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains.
Next Stop – Colorado National Monument