Big South Fork

Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The area boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs, is rich with natural and historic features and has been developed to provide visitors with a wide range of outdoor recreational activities.

Established in 1974 Big South Fork was designated as both a National Recreation Area and a National River. The National Recreation Area designation was deemed appropriate due to the area’s proximity to a large number of metropolitan areas and the potential the area exhibited for outdoor recreational activities.

While still managing Big South Fork in such a manner as to protect the area’s natural and cultural resources, the park is also managed in a way which will provide visitors with the opportunity to engage in a wide range of healthy outdoor recreational activities.

Some of the most popular recreational activities available at Big South Fork include;

  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Mountain Bike Riding
  • Paddling
  • Hunting
  • Fishing
  • Photography
  • Star Gazing
  • Sightseeing
  • Backcountry Camping

BSF Weather

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The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is located in a humid climatic region, typified by mild winters and moist warm to hot summers. Storm systems typically bring heavy rains from December through March which may cause flooding. Summer thunderstorms are common. Winter snowfall occurs intermittently in the area and averages 17 inches per year. Wear comfortable clothing for the season and bring clothing for the possible extremes.

Blue Heron Mining Community

Blue Heron, or Mine 18, is an abandoned coal mining town and was a part of the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company's past operation.  The Blue Heron mines operated from 1937 until December, 1962, when operations were no longer profitable. During that time, hundreds of people lived and worked in this isolated community on the banks of the Big South Fork River. Their story is the the story of Blue Heron.

When the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company abandoned Blue Heron in 1962, the buildings were either removed or lapsed into decay. As a result there were no original buildings standing when the community was "re-created"  in the 1980's.  Built as an outdoor museum the new structures are open, metal shells of buildings, referred to as "ghost structures" built on the approximate site of the original buildings and were made as close to the original size and orientation as possible.

It is within each ghost structure that the story of Blue Heron is told. Each structure is themed around a different aspect of life in the community such as the school, church or woman’s life.  Those stories are then told by the former residents of Blue Heron themselves. Each building contains an audio program through which the people who actually lived and worked in Blue Heron can share their memories and feelings about life in the community of Blue Heron.  In addition to the audio program each  structure also contains an exhibit case housing photographs and common everyday items which are relevant to the buildings theme.

The depot is the best place to begin your tour of the Blue Heron Mining Community. You will find a model of the town at its heyday in the 1950's, a model of the coal tipple and bridge, and learn the story of the Stearns Company's timber, railroad and mining operations.