The community speaks up

“It’s time for us to roll up our shirt sleeves and get going.”

            — Denise Wainscott

By Bobbie Poynter


Barbourville Tourism asked Knox County residents what they feel would be good for their city and county’s future.

“This is going to be a working plan, not one that just sits on the shelf,” said Debbie Spencer, president of We Make Things Happen!, who along with Barbourville Tourism, hosted two events Jan. 29 to hear ideas on what the community feels will help improve tourism in the area, not just for tourists, but for its citizens as well.

“We’re hoping to develop our strategic action plan,” said Tourism Director Denise Wainscott. “We want more than just day visitors. We want tourists visiting our town to stay overnight or even longer.”

Spencer began by describing several strategic plans that have worked out well for other communities, including outdoor adventures, horseback riding and unique dining spots. A strategic plan in Knott County, she explained, was completed in only a year and a half and included a trail ride. It drew 10,000 people into the community and brought in $2.3 million in revenue into that region.

A big plus for this area, Spencer said, is that Knox County has a wealth of history, not to mention all the firsts the area claims, including:

1st settlement house in Kentucky (c. 1750)

   Dr. Thomas Walker State Historic Site

  1st trails and roads in KY (c. 1775) all come together in Knox County.

  Boone Trace, Wilderness Road, Warriors Path all come together at Daniel Boone Memorial Park in Flat Lick

1st town in east Kentucky to formally be established by the state assembly (1812).

  Incorporated in 1854.

1st Battle of the Civil War that resulted in casualties occurred in Barbourville (1861)

1st College in the mountains – Union College (c. 1879)

In the 1800’s , Barbourville was the largest and most progressive city south of Richmond.

Knox County was formed in 1799 from Lincoln (one of Kentucky’s original nine counties)

 Counties created from Knox include Clay, Rockcastle, Whitley, Harlan, Laurel and Bell.

  Knox County was home to two Kentucky Governors, a governor of Missouri, a supreme court justice, and a founder of the state of Texas.

         Oldest continuously running festival in Kentucky – Daniel Boone Festival

Of course, the discussion was not all about the positives. Residents were also given a chance to say what they felt was wrong in the city.

Residents responded with

• poor entrances into town

• little parking for dining

little lodging and/or event space

poor or non-existent street signs

no family activities

•poor communication between organizations

• non-existent night scene

division of townfolk and Union College

buildings in downtown are empty

locals don’t support Barbourville

Positives, however, greatly outweighed the negatives. The residents had plenty to say about what was good about their city and county.

Those included:

• a beautiful downtown

a downtown square surrounded by historic buildings

• a state historic site

• Boone Trace Wilderness Road, Warrior’s Path

natural resources

•Cumberland River – kayaking and tubing

• wonderful farmland

city water park

an established barbeque festival

• Daniel Boone Festival

• Red Bud Festival

K & J Railroad trestle bridge in Artemus

• story legends

• WWII storage bunker under the Prom Shop building

a museum that has “more history than bigger, more elaborate museums”

a strong and growing Farmer’s Market

• lots of local artisans and crafters

• quality downtown shops

• two community gardens

Union College’s Turner Outdoor Center mountain bike trail

On the subject of the Cumberland River, Spencer said blue ways, just like highways, can be developed, and can bring in tourist from all across the nation. She also emphasized that the community needs to capitalize on its heritage, particularly those who are direct descendants of Daniel Boone and his family.

“I’m finding so many treasures in your community that you have kept hidden,” said Spencer, and then encouraged the community utilize the web for more of it’s regular events. Part of her job, she said, is checking out city websites to see how inviting they make their city sound.

“It’s a strong investment,” she said.

She also suggested the community take advantage of the Promise Zone and SOAR programs, of which there are lots of grants and opportunities available.

After all was said and done, everyone agreed Barbourville and Knox County have the right stuff to draw in lots of tourism, as well as, improve the lives of those living in the area.

“Tourism has an open door policy,” said Wainscott. “Just give us a call. We’ll put you in touch with like-minded people. In the meantime, thanks to you, we can now begin shaping a short and long-term plan. We’re ready to go. It’s time for us to roll up our shirt sleeves and get going.”