The hidden treasures of Clark County

Published 8:22 pm Monday, November 5, 2018

In his book, The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs, Tristan Gooley says, “It should be expected that we will find wonder in a vast mountain landscape, but it is a more serious challenge to find wonder in a hill. It is a great achievement to find it in a molehill.”

Other than the short time I lived on the UK campus to obtain my degree, or at EKU while my wife finished hers, I have lived in Clark County.  I know many GRC graduates (including those of my 1987 graduating class) left Clark County behind in search of bigger and better things.  Many of them out of necessity, but many others because they did not see the value in our small town. 

I have considered this long and hard for many years.  I have often wondered if this is because there is nothing of value here, or could those people not see it?  Reference Mr. Gooley’s quote from above to get my answer

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There is much treasure here in our small town, often times you just have to know where to see it.  The Lower Howard’s Creek Nature Preserve is one of those places with many natural treasures.  I write this a day after going on an organized hike there.  I often lead wood walks all over the country, but on this day, I was a regular hiker. 

I was taking the opportunity to learn from Karis Pumphrey. She had invited me some time ago to join her on one of the hikes and to lead some instruction.

I am not sure how best to describe Karis’ background as she was humble in her approach to her education and how she led the hike. 

She was doing so with a broken toe or two, which she mentioned to me before we started, and I never heard her speak of again.  I think that is telling of how focused she was on guiding and directing those of us who had come to learn and enjoy the fall colors. 

She did a most excellent job of discussing the different streams, limestone formations and flora and fauna of the area.  Most importantly to me, she did a great job of explaining how it all works together in a system.  She even took some specific time to show me how parking lot runoff in Winchester several miles away plays a significant role on the Lower Howard’s Creek watershed. 

As for Clare and Harry, there is never a time that I spend much time with either of them that I don’t walk away with a profound appreciation for local history.  I have been down to the preserve with Clare many times and each time I hear new stories of her experiences as a young girl playing and working on those hills.  She spoke of horse-drawn sleds in the winter and corn and tobacco crops standing where tall beautiful trees now stand.  While the other hikers that joined us were admiring the creek and chatting with Clare, I took some time to walk and listen to Harry speak of mills of both that area and others.  Specifically, how they are all special in their own way and no two are alike.  He also shared his educated guesses on so many things we do not have a historical record for.  It is great to do such things. 

While we were there, the fall colors were blazing, wildlife tracks were telling unseen stories, and recent rains had forced out some beautiful mushrooms.  I spent many days as a kid going down to that area to fish with one of my cousins who could drive when I couldn’t.  There were many memory treasures that were made back then, and there were many more made yesterday.  If you have not joined them on a hike, please do.  Hopefully, I will see you there soon on, or off, the trail!

Craig Caudill is a lifelong resident of Winchester and serves as Director of Nature Reliance School. He is the author of Extreme Wilderness Survival, Ultimate Wilderness Gear and Essential Wilderness Navigation (April 2019).  Please feel free to contact Craig at or through any of the various social media platforms available.