WINCHESTER, Ky. (WTVQ) — Last spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest
Service was preparing for what would be one of the highest periods of visitation in years.
With the sudden cancellation of many indoor activities, public land recreation was booming.
This brought waves of visitors, some with years of outdoor experience and others with practically none, to the Daniel Boone National Forest and, specifically, the Red River Gorge National Geological Area.
“As a land manager on the Daniel Boone National Forest, it was outstanding to see so many visitors find relief from the pandemic through visits to their public lands,” said Cumberland District Ranger Jon Kazmierski.
“However, I was also growing concerned about the safety of our visitors and the impacts to the fragile and unique resources of the Red River Gorge. It was at just that time that David McCreary reached out to ask what he could do to help care for the Gorge.”
David McCreary, Executive Director of Friends of the Red River Gorge, recognized that the Forest Service could use assistance responding to the flood of new visitors.
After reaching out to the Forest Service, he founded Friends of the Red River Gorge to increase cooperation among volunteer groups and promote stewardship of the Red River Gorge Geological Area.
After quickly amassing a group of dedicated volunteers, FORRG went to work providing information, interpretive services, and environmental quality improvement projects to visitors in the Red River Gorge.
Among their many accomplishments in 2020, FORRG volunteers set up drive-through information assistance about COVID-19 guidelines for safe recreating to the record-breaking visitors during the pandemic at the Cumberland Ranger District’s Gladie Center in the heart of the Red River Gorge.
FORRG volunteers also communicated Leave No Trace principles to backcountry hikers and helped coordinate a massive clean-up of the Red River. The clean-up alone resulted in the removal of 100 tires from the Swift Camp Creek watershed.
“David pulled together a small army of volunteers and found creative ways to support responsible recreation and stewardship all while keeping volunteers and visitors safe during the some of the most challenging months of the pandemic. We are extremely fortunate to have had a new partner rise to the occasion with such energy and enthusiasm,” said Kazmierski.
FORRG was recently recognized for their hard work and dedication with a USDA Forest Service Volunteer and Service Award for Leadership. They were one of only six groups to be recognized nationally for their contributions.
“We are honored to receive this award and hope to continue to serve as an example of what dedicated volunteers can do,” said David McCreary. “We are looking forward to another busy year of helping visitors recreate responsibly and supporting stewardship projects throughout the Gorge.”