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The Red River Gorge is beautiful, act right when you visit

The sun rises over the Red River Gorge on Saturday, August 5, 2023, in Stanton, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

It is once again that time of year: spring is slowly winning the battle against winter, and summer will follow it. The warm weather invites people to spend their free time outside, which, for those living in the Kentucky counties of Wolfe, Powell and Menifee, means that tourist season in the Red River Gorge has begun.

Business owners in the area are, as one might expect, delighted to welcome everyone in their brand-new SUVs and expensive hiking gear to come spend their money on ice cream, chili dogs and liquor. The rental cabins in the area attract plenty of tenants to line the pockets of their owners and invite further investment in the real estate market for temporary lodging.

While I can relate to the appreciation for the spectacular overlooks and magnificent rock formations of the gorge, I must insist, on behalf of those of us who live there full time, that if you decide to visit the area, you ought to have some respect.

It seems like every year, when the days turn sunny and warm, I hear someone at home recounting a story of people in the gorge doing something foolish, rude or some combination of the two. I can recall driving along Highway 715 through the gorge, a road that travels over such narrow ridges that there is no room for a yellow line, and meeting drivers who go too fast and take up the whole road.

There are signs around the gorge that direct people to official trails and campgrounds or alert them to the rules that the National Park Service has for visitors. I have known people to leave the trails, set up camp where they should not or even jump onto Chimney Rock despite the warnings clearly posted, and when they negligently endanger themselves, the volunteer Search and Rescue teams of the area are dispatched to get them to safety.

I enjoy spending time in the gorge when my schedule allows it, and there is something distinctly disheartening about seeing names and words carved into or spray-painted onto sandstone rock faces. Worse still is seeing the litter left by those who cannot be bothered to find a trash can or take their garbage with them when they leave.

But the problems are not limited to what happens on public land. There are a great deal of private residences around the gorge, and the drivers who exceed the speed limit on the highways in the area put children and pets at risk. Beyond that, it is not comfortable for anyone when tourists appear out of the woods after hiking on someone’s private property without asking.

I would not dare tell anyone that they are not allowed to have a weekend trip to the gorge when the weather is nice or that outsiders are unwelcome. There are plenty of people who do as the park service recommends and leave no trace, and not everyone who comes in as a tourist is devoid of a sense of courtesy.

That being said, mind that you do not become part of the problem.

Do not leave a mess behind for someone else to clean up. If you plan to drive through the Nada Tunnel, remember to let anyone already in it drive out. Do not jump out onto Chimney Rock for a picture; you will not be able to jump back. When someone tells you about an “unofficial attraction,” assume that it is private property and that you need to ask someone’s permission.

And if you are from Cincinnati, read that list again just to make sure you do not forget.

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