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NPS and Local Business Owners Hold Meeting

Meeting focuses on needs of local
businesses amidst temporary cancellation of train excursions

By Eugenia Jones

Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area (BSFNRRA) Superintendent Niki Nicholas recently hosted a meeting with nine business owners and representatives of organizations directly impacted by this summer’s temporary shut-down of the Big South Fork Scenic Railway. Held at the National Park Service Ranger Station on Wilburn Ross Road in Stearns, the meeting was designed to give park officials and local business owners the opportunity to work together and formulate plans for the future in the event the scenic railway is unable to run on schedule.

Ongoing for approximately six weeks, the unanticipated cancellation of excursions on the Big South Fork Scenic Railway (BSFSRY) due to the need for extensive maintenance work on the railway’s track has taken a toll on business owners in downtown Stearns. While Nicholas and BSFSRY Executive Director Lou Capwell stated the month of July is typically less busy for the park and train, local business owners of gift shops, restaurants, etc. within Stearns indicate that tourist traffic during the summer months is crucial to the success of their businesses. Most had hoped for a strong summer tourism season in 2018. Operating out of two locations-from Corbin and from within the BSFNRRA park-Dania Egedia with Sheltowee Trace noted they are not as dependent on the scenic railway to draw tourists to their tubing and whitewater rafting business. Egedia stated July is typically one of the busiest months for their business and that tubing excursions seem to be doing well this year.

Those attending the meeting discussed the importance of being notified in advance when the BSFSRY is unable to run on schedule-especially when the train is unable to run on schedule for more than one week-and agreed it is important to work together to host events in Stearns to draw tourists to the area in the event the train does not run as expected. Anticipating the reopening of the train later this week, Executive Director Capwell committed to notifying the Park Service and local businesses about lengthy train closures, etc. via a distribution list developed during the meeting. Businesses wishing to be included on the distribution list may contact the Park Service for further details and to furnish their contact information.

BSFNRRA Superintendent Nicholas noted special events coming soon to the area include the annual Blue Heron Ghost Train/Storytelling on Saturday, September 2, No Business Trail Run and River Dash events in October, and the BSF Scenic Railway’s Polar Express excursions beginning the day after Thanksgiving. She also stated the National Park Service is in the process of renovating all campsites at Bear Creek Horse Camp and Blue Heron Campground. Both campgrounds are located on the Kentucky side the park. Additionally, the concession stand at Blue Heron is being upgraded to meet compliance and capacity as an outdoor dining facility. According to Nicholas, trend analysis indicates Blue Heron is a place where people will go to dine. She indicated the dining area will probably be ready to bid out to an operator during the 2020 season.

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