March 13, 2013 — Family and group picnics, cave tours, hiking, fishing, swimming and paddle boating in Smoky Lake, group camping, horseback rides and beautiful scenery.
For most of the first half of its 67 years of existence, those were the primary attractions at Carter Caves State Resort Park.
We Carter Countians were rightly proud of this little jewel in a statewide park system we claimed to be the best in the U.S.
It was a recreation destination for local families and for their kinfolk who had migrated to other states for work.
Compared with today’s recreation attractions,
Carter Caves, still known to most locals as “the Caves”, could be enjoyed at bargain prices.
The park was established in July 1946 but the property had been in private ownership since the area was first settled in the late 1700’s.
Landowners in Carter and some adjacent counties, inspired and led by the J. F. Lewis family, donated 945 acres of woodlands, streams and caves to the state to create the park.
Also playing key roles were the Grayson and Olive Hill Rotary clubs.
Former Kentucky Gov. William Jason Fields, a native of Carter County, was another key player in making it happen.
Thirteen years later, a nearby cave system known as Cascade Caves, was purchased to become part of the state park.
Previously, Cascade Caves had been a privately-owned commercial enterprise in operation since 1925.
Cascade Caves and other land obtained by the state eventually increased the total land area to nearly 2,000 acres or about three square miles.
Two years earlier, the state established the adjoining Tygart State Forest, consisting of 874 acres, one of seven forests managed by the Kentucky Division of Forestry.
Also in the early years, Smoky Creek was impounded to create Smoky Lake to offer swimming, fishing and boating to park visitors.
Another major development in the park’s history occurred in December 1981, when the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission set aside 146 acres within the park as nature preserves.