Bluegrass Roadtrips: Burnside unique in Kentucky’s park system

The sign welcomes visitors to the island, but the crisp bite of the mid-March air is anything but tropical. Sandy beaches and umbrella drinks are nowhere to be found.
That doesn’t diminish the rustic charm of General Burnside Island State Park, though.
Located about eight miles south of Somerset in Pulaski County, it is a picturesque destination surrounded by the brownish-green waters of Lake Cumberland. The 430-acre park has the distinction of being the only island in Kentucky’s state parks system.
Although the island wasn’t created until the 1950s when the Army Corps of Engineers damned the Cumberland River and created Lake Cumberland, the land itself has rich a heritage and ties to the Civil War. The park and the nearby town were named after Union General Ambrose Burnside who established a camp and army depot along the river.
Today, although somewhat primitive and sparse when it comes to facilities, the island has become a popular destination for camping, boating and fishing, as well as for those seeking to tee off on a championship-caliber golf course.
The nearby marina, which offers fishing, ski, pontoon and house boat rentals, has become a popular access point for those seeking to hit Lake Cumberland.
For New Orleans native Chris Neau, Burnside Park and Lake Cumberland was filled with lots of promise — and hopefully fish — that recent March morning.
But Neau isn’t your ordinary visitor.
A professional fisherman for the past 11 years, Neau was in Kentucky to scope out the lake in advance of the FLW bass fishing tournament set to be hosted there April 6-9. More than 150 boaters from across the country will be on the waters with $125,000 on the line.
“I have heard the lake will be up 4 to 5 feet when we come back,” Neau said, adding that he will primarily be angling for smallmouth, spotted and largemouth bass. “I’ve heard it’s an awesome lake to fish and I’m ready to get out there.”
Neau takes advantage of the six-lane-wide boat ramp to back his sponsor-covered boat into the water, this just the latest stop in the tour that has taken him across the country.
Those seeking their recreation on dry land can look toward the acclaimed 18-hole golf course that has been named best in the state three years in a row by Kentucky Living magazine.
Open year-round as long as weather is permitting, the course was renovated entirely in 2008 and continues to gain recognition for its Zoysia grass fairways and layouts by acclaimed designer Brian Ault, Greg Blevins, golf course superintendent, said.
“People can play a championship golf course in a park setting with beautiful scenery, wildlife all around you. A lot of golf courses don’t provide that,” Blevins said. “It’s just a great place to just get away from everyday life and enjoy the outdoors.”
Roadtrip Facts
— General Burnside Island State Park is located at 8801 South Highway 27 in Burnside.
—  Camping opens April 1 and runs through Oct. 31.
— The campground has 94 sites with utility hookups, showers and restrooms.
— The swimming pool closed several years ago and may not be reopened.
— Burnside is one of several places to stake the claim as the birthplace of the Boy Scouts of America. A troop was formed there in 1908, two years before the Boy Scouts of America was officially organized.
— Namesake Gen. Ambrose Burnside was known for his unusual facial hairstyle that connected thick sideburns with a moustache but left his chin clean-shaven. This later became known as sideburns.
For more information, call (606) 561-4104.