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By BECCA OWSLEY
FORT KNOX — The adventure began on two hiking trails that weaved into the side of Muldraugh Hill on the edge of the Fort Knox Military Reservation. The Tioga Falls Trail and Bridges to the Past provide a rare glimpse of nature’s beauty, along with a lesson in the historical significance of this northern Hardin County area.
Tioga Falls Trail is the remnant of an old wagon trail that wound its way up the hillside to the falls. The two-mile trail has been open to the public since the early 1990s, but travel is like walking into the past.
“The trails probably haven’t changed too much since it was used,” said Matthew Rector, historic preservation specialist with the Cultural Resources Office at Fort Knox.
At the beginning of the hike, the trail didn’t seem to be too difficult. But as the heat intensified and the slope increased, it became more challenging.
The falls run 130 feet down Muldraugh Hill. Usually, when the water is at a low trickle, the stream of the falls can be crossed at various locations. But after a heavy rain, when the falls have been known to gush down the hillside, hikers must use a log bridge to cross.
Rector said the trail is in need of some bridges to cross certain points, such as the falls. He hopes that local Boy Scout groups or other organizations volunteer for the task.
Along the path are many dry stone retaining walls which are unique to the area. Although there were not many established communities at the time of the wagon trail, Rector said there had to be some homes because of evidence of the Shady Grove School and the retaining walls.
“You don’t build a stone retaining wall if you are just passing through,” Rector said.
On the trail, a hiker may run across the occasional ammunition round, pottery shard, old bottle or other artifact. While interesting to look at, the artifacts must stay where they are found because the trail — and all items on it — are federal property. Rector recently found a few pieces washed up on the trail after a rain, but left them alone.
Other interesting things can be found along the trail, such as an 85-foot-high railroad trestle built in 1873 and reinforced with additional steel work in the 1930s. Visitors are not allowed to climb the trestle or walk along its tracks because it is a working track and has an irregular schedule.
Also visible are ruins of an old spring house that is more than 100 years old. It once was used to keep milk and other foods cool in the summer.
At one point during the hike, a Tarzan call coule be heard in the distance. Other than Tarzan, the rest of the soundtrack for the trek consisted mostly of an occasional helicopter flying overhead to the nearby Army post and cicadas — lots and lots of cicadas.
The second trail, Bridges to the Past, is a two-mile path that follows the old Louisville and Nashville Turnpike. It is a paved path and easier to walk than the Tioga Falls Trail.
The turnpike was constructed in the 1830s and was a popular stagecoach route.
During the Civil War, it was used by the Union Army and an occasional Confederate detachment. Although no battles occurred in this area, Gen. Don Carlos Buell marched his army on the road toward Louisville in 1862 to defend the city against a possible attack by Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg.
Three limestone bridges along the trail were built in the 1840s by Irish laborers. German prisoners of war repaired the bridges while housed at Fort Knox during World War II. The bridges are some of the oldest standing in Kentucky.
The bridges have been vandalized with graffiti, an offense that, if prosecuted, would carry a higher penalty for the offenders than a typical vandalism charge because the bridges are on federal property.
At the end of the trail is Dripping Spring which served as a campsite for cattle drive in the 1800s as producers drove their cows to the stockyards in Louisville.
There also is evidence of an old quarry. The road was constructed using crushed limestone called macadamized construction, which could have been farmed at the quarry and used to build the turnpike.
Evidence of the old road can be seen on some rough edges and in potholes where weather has worn away the asphalt surface.
Before visiting the trails, there are a couple of things hikers need to know. The area is on federal property and can be closed at times for military training or during hunting season. Alcohol or motorized vehicles are not allowed on either path — it’s strictly foot traffic.
While hiking, follow the signs. If a sign says to turn back — do as it says. You may be heading onto a part of the post where you shouldn’t be. And keep to the trails. Because of previous military training in the area, places off the path may be unsafe.
Rector said he sometimes sees people in the hills and other places they shouldn’t be, but he recommends staying on the path and adhering to the rules — especially with the risk of possible unexploded ordnance outside of the designated hiking areas.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.
Clues to today’s adventure were offered in Monday’s paper and online at www.thenewsenterprise.com. Locations guessed by our readers were Freeman Lake, Saunders Springs and Bridges of the Past Trail. FUTURE ADVENTURES
Staff writer Becca Owsley and photographer Jill Pickett have other “Where in Hardin County?” adventures planned this summer. If you have a suggestion for a unique place in Hardin County, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The stories will appear on Tuesdays and the clues on Mondays. FIND OUT MORE
For more information about the trails, contact the Fort Knox Environmental Management Division, Cultural Resource Office, at (502) 624-6581 or go to www.radclifftourism.org. Trail guides are available on post at Building 112 near the Recycle Center or at the Radcliff-Fort Knox Tourism Office. The trail is about one mile south of West Point or eight miles north of Fort Knox main gate off U.S. 31W.