Sunday, March 7, 2010

Kentucky Places: Blue Licks Battlefield

Blue Licks Battlefield State Park is a great place to visit if you are a Kentucky history buff, ecologist, or fan of mismanagement. Let's start at the beginning, which is several thousand years ago. Huge bison herds, thousands of head strong, congregated at the Licking River mineral licks near what is now the park. These big critters ate most everything in their path and stomped on the rest, creating a pretty barren landscape at this ox-bow. The habitat was so harsh that only pretty specialized plants could survive here. One plant in particular, the Short's goldenrod, is a federally endangered species and is only found in the Blue Licks area (in Kentucky anyway). Jump forward a few centuries to 1782, and this becomes the site of the battle of Blue Licks, the last battle of the Revolutionary War. Daniel Boone led a company of pioneers into a rout at the hands of Shawnee allied with the British, right at the very same spot as the mineral springs and the goldenrod. Most of the pioneers were killed . All of the bison were wiped out at about the same time, and without the heavy grazing and trampling the barren openings started to turn in scrubby woodlands. Jump ahead another century to the Gilded Age and some enterprising locals realized they had something special on their hands. They started bottling "Blue Licks Springs Mineral Water", and tourists came to soak in the springs for a little natural spa rejuvenation. So in this one little spot we have a unique endangered species, a battle featuring Kentucky's most famous pioneer, and an historic tourist attraction.

And now for the mismanagement...

You can't see the mineral springs any more. Because they aren't there anymore. They were blown up and the US Highway 68 bridge across the Licking River was built right on top of them. The bison were slaughtered long ago, as I mentioned, but there are still a few Short's golenrod plants left for you to see. Not many though, because in the 1960s the state bulldozed most of them and built a campground, which is also sitting on top of most of the actual "battlefield" where the fighting took place. RVs with sattelite dishes are now parked where the Shawnee whipped the pioneers. There is a bathroom, with showers, on the spot where Boone's son was killed. You can visit a monument to the fallen Kentuckians at the park, although it isn't at the site where they are buried. They built a parking lot on top the graves long ago.

I should say that most of these horrible deeds were done decades ago. The state park has recently renovated their museum and it is first rate. Their trail system preserves a portion of the bison trace, the trail that migrating buffalo gouged into the earth, and you can still see the Short's goldenrod along it. If you can, the best time to go an visit is during their annual battle reenactment, which coincides with the blooming of the goldenrod. While the preservation of the history and the natural habitats has pretty much been a disaster in the past, they are making efforts to preserve what they have left. And the fried chicken in the lodge buffet isn't bad. Just an hour from Lexington, it's worth the trip on a lazy afternoon.