Clearing the Path: Resurrecting the Jenny Wiley Trail


By Carrie Stambaugh

ASHLAND Efforts are underway in eastern Kentucky to reopen the Jenny Wiley Trail, a former 180 mile National Recreation Trail that fell into disuse as a footpath shortly after being opened more than 30 years ago.

The JWT stretched from South Portsmouth in Greenup County to the lodge at Jenny Wiley State Park in Floyd County and was first opened in 1980. Designed to commemorate the path pioneer woman Jenny Wiley followed during her adduction by Native Americans in 1789 from her home near present day Tazewell, Va. and her subsequent escape. The trail  touches some of the most scenic and distinct geographic features in the region including the Pottsville Escarpment and Elliott County’s scenic Devil’s Fork Canyon  in addition to passing other landmarks.

The remains of Kentucky Poete Laurete Lee Pennington's cabin along the JWT near Greenup. Photo courtesy of the Jenny Wiley Trail Conference


Conceived, built and managed by volunteers who comprised the Jenny Wiley Trail Conference, its construction was completed using $550,000 in federal grant funds secured by the FIVCO Area Development District, which was instrumental in securing landowner easements as most of the trail passes through privately held lands. A year after the path was completed the state took over ownership and immediately began scaling back its support, according to Soc Clay a founding member of the JWTC.

Funding diminished from $100,000 a year to $25,000 before the public funding spigot was shut off entirely, he recalled, adding the state never fully upheld its end of the bargain to promote the trail. It never even created a brochure or map and in the late 80s closed the trail completely, replacing it with a driving tour that even residents don’t know is there.

But Clay is optimistic that the JWT can be saved.

A coalition of state and local officials, outdoor enthusiasts and others have been meeting for the last few years to expand recreational trails in Kentucky in order to promote the state as a premier destination for the ever-growing adventure tourism industry. The Jenny Wiley Trail could be a major part of that believes interim executive director Steve Barbour has been leading the JWT revitalization efforts.

Barbour is also the executive director of the Sheltowee Trace, Kentucky’s longest trail which stretches more than 280 miles across the state through the Daniel Boone National Forest. He wants to see the JWT reinvented to create a unique destination trail that will both complement and will greatly enlarge current long-distance hiking trail options in Kentucky.

Courtesy of the Jenny Wiley Trail Conference

In addition to immediately reopening portions of the JWT in the northern district between South Shore and Greenbo Lake State Park, where the trail can still be found,  Barbour has also proposed rerouting it the JWT nearly 30 miles east, so that it can connect Carter Caves State Resort Park and Grayson Lake State Park directly.

Plans also include adding significant length to the trail’s southern end changing its terminus from the Jenny Wiley State Park near Prestonsburg to The Breaks Interstate Park in Pike County along the Virginia border. The expansion would add Paintsville Lake, Dewey Lake and Fish Trap Lake to the burgeoning list of public lands the JWT would cross.

According to Barbour, no other long distance trail in single state would connect so many public parks and lakes, making it a national attraction. This uniqueness would aid in its promotion, he added.

The southern expansion would also allow the JWT to be connected to the Pine Mountain Trail, whose northern terminus is at The Breaks. The Pine Mountain Trail is also slated to connect with the Great Eastern trail as is the Sheltowee Trace. A small northern spur trail is also planned to connect the JWT to the Sheltowee.

“The Great Eastern (Trail) is the main highway for the JWT and the Sheltowee. Our two Kentucky long trails will be on-ramps to this trail and the North Country Trail enabling long distance journeys that only our pioneer fathers and mothers experienced until now,” said Barbour.

Volunteer Dean Adams surveys the condition of the JWT near Greenup in March. Photo courtesy of the Jenny Wiley Trail Conference

But before that vision can be realized, there is a lot of work to do. The JWTC is still in the process of reorganizing itself and recruiting volunteers and supporters.

Hurdles to reopening and expand the trail include: finding, marking and clearing the former trail, securing landowner easements to old and new lands the trail will cross, building political support for linking the public lands and raising money to cover insurance and maintenance costs.
A second organizational meeting of the JWTC is slated for Tuesday at the Jenny Wiley State Park Lodge near Prestonsburg beginning at 7 p.m.

To learn more about the trail, volunteer opportunities or to follow its progress, join The Jenny Wiley Trail Conference page on Facebook or on twitter @jennywileytrail.


Carrie "Mudfoot" Stambaugh is the managing editor of Carrie is an outdoor adventurer! She's an avid hiker and a burgeoning angler. Carrie and her husband, Carl, also enjoy canoeing eastern Kentucky lakes and rivers with their dog Cooper. The couple live in Ashland. 


  11 comments for “Clearing the Path: Resurrecting the Jenny Wiley Trail

  1. My husband is the 4th generation of jenny wiley and we are very interested in learing about what has become of the jenny wiley trail? Is this going to come true or not> would like to be update on this project if u have any information.

    • Sandy,

      Thanks for reading my article and for your interest in the Jenny Wiley Trail. I am a member of the trail’s advisory board but there has been little action over the summer. We’ve had two public meetings one in May and another in early June, to judge interest and find individuals who can be helpful and are awaiting a third. There is a lot of work to be done including finding the old trail and getting landowners to sign new agreements for the trail to be on their land, as well as scouting a route for the proposed reroutes through state and other public lands.

      My sense is that it will take many, many years before the trail is reopened and/or expanded. But I believe there is an interest there and with some legislative help from county governments we can make it happen.

      Do you live in the area? The best way to stay up on the news is through the Jenny Wiley Trail Conference’s facebook page.


      Carrie Stambaugh

  2. Carrie, I am a fifth generation Jenny and Thomas Wiley descendent who is very interested in helping to reopen the trail. I live in Ohio but would help in any way I could. I will join the face book page.

  3. I am a native Greenup Countian. I am very excited that the trail is receiving attention. I am interested in adding my support for this project.

  4. I’m one of those landowners and there isn’t a chance in hell that I’ll sign any agreement. First will come the hikers. Next the horses and then finally the ATV’s. Not no but hell no!

    • Fully understand your point of view and agree with you. I am a hiking fan and it would be nice to have this trail re-opened but I see your point about the potential for abuse. Perhaps, this Trail can be put somewhere else, say along some kind of existing public right-of-way. I’m not that hot on rail trails, either. What do we do if we need the railroads again? Don’t we need more railroads in this country, not less? We have some good distance trails in this State. I don’t know of any cases where abuse is claimed.

    • I too am one of those land owners and glady let hikers, atv, riders and horses pass through my property. I can see the concern that you have Kibbey, but as you well know most of those riders are very respectful of your property. I am all for the trail being reopened so long as land owners have the right to control things such as litter,etc. Kib, don’t be one of those landowners who stop the decent people in your area from enjoying a day out riding. The trail through your place is so beautiful, and is such a good ride towards home.

      • I will do A voluntary Total Hike of that trail to Promote it. My email is I am a US army Veteran and have ran the woods of Ky all my life. Get ahold of me if interested. I will need at least 2 more men with me.

  5. What isn’t in this report is the carelessness, and vandalism of hikers (or some locals for that matter) who raided private landowners’ property, burned out high center sections of the Kehoe suspension bridge repeatedly, camped and started fires in areas where fires should not have been like on peoples private property that was off the trail, didn’t make use of established fire beds and added more, and destroyed shelters established for camping. The shelters were simple lean-to types and animales made use of them thus causing people to camp elsewhere. These shelters eventually became firewood. And then there was litter… Parts of the trail became party locations. ATV was starting to be a problem in the later days of the trail.

    Otherwise, for various reasons occasionally hikers would wonder off the trail to ask landowners for help in transporting them back to some location or to use a phone to call someone. Now days cell phones would ease the knocking on doors to make calls until the batteries are drained. I know that people will render aid to those needing help, usually, but in the context of willful destruction or parts of the trail, property fences etc., it is understandable for landowners to be somewhat concerned when a stranger knocks on their door.

    Paradoxically, some felt like the trail wasn’t getting enough use!

    Taking care of trails is expensive when hickers and locals are respectful, it is a loosing battle when they are not. Some of those who had signed easements were sorry they did. It was a sore topic of conversation among landowners in Greenup, Carter, and Elliot counties, and I know this due to the common talk in that area at that time. Suffice it to say, that the existence of the common knowledge of these situations is reason enough for local concern. To be sure, I will NOT name names, so don’t think of asking me!

    Remember the ice storms over the last few years? This is an example of a natural cause that would have to be dealt with as well, and I’m quite sure all are aware of that.

    I’ve built a few trail structures and have built sections of trails. I knew and worked with the original Jenny Wiley Trail Crew guys at Carter Caves SRP in the past and have seen sections of the abused parts of the JYT. Conservationists aren’t the only ones walking into these beautiful areas, unfortunately, and verily, the others leave a bad mark. Sad…

    I hope all these matters are seriously considered by those wanting to reestablish the JYT. I viewed it as an asset to those who enjoyed the outdoors, who would capture wonderful images along the way and rediscover the true beauty of Eastern Kentucky. My personal feelings are that I’ve seen it from both sides now and this report, “Clearing the Path: Resurrecting the Jenny Wiley Trail” appears to target the state for the JYT’s demise without at all showing what really was happening with the land and with landowners, on and off the established trail.

    The state funded Jenny Wiley Trail Crew could not keep up with all the maintenance needs and not enough volunteers were available to help maintain a trail that they had built, their numbers rapidly dwindling as and the years went by. The people who made it was the first to abandon it. Who wants to consistently work on a trail once a month or three times a season for that matter?

    And about that state hired trail crew? In the 1980’s I worked as a trackman at Russell Yards. I know what heavy manual labor is! When I worked with the trail crew I can tell you that THEY WORKED!!! They were not slackers by any standard. They put in an honest eight hours every day. There was nobody to push them to do anything, they pushed themselves. They was there to do the work and was glad of it. When anyone reported anything to them that needed done, they was glad to do it, but they were only human and weren’t omnipresent.

    I used to attend the JYTC meetings at Ashland Community College in the 1980’s. I remember dwindling numbers and the usual small core of well meaning individuals until there were no more meetings, at least that I knew of.

    So it this does get resurrected, I hope that these issues will not be brushed under a rug, but will be sincerely and directly dealt with.

    You may as well plan on buying a four wheel drive pickup truck with a crew cab, Job Box for tools, a four wheel drive ATV, something like a Gator with a wench, a trailer to haul the Gator. all the obvious tools, radios to compliment and back-up cell phones, and hire a four person trained crew to maintain the trail for at least eight months of the year.

    If other national trails are maintained by volunteers, great! It didn’t happen that way around here before…

    I just noticed that this article was written last year. I don’t know what has happened since it was written. I’ll look the page over. Hopefully some of these matters are being handled.

  6. Don,
    Thanks for your comments,this article was written by Carrie Stambaugh, she is on the JWT committee and she may have some updates to add to the article. I do know that all of your concerns are well noted and have been discussed in planing meetings, the out come of the trail rest in the public hands and how it turns out will have a lot to do with interest of people that either want it reopened or to keep it closed.

    I personally feel that it will only become a successful projects if it has the support of both land owners and groups like hiker clubs, boy & girl scouts,birding groups and nature groups. it’s really up to the public to support or reject something that is part of Kentucky’s history.

    Chris Erwin
    Contributing Editor/Publisher
    Kentucky Angling News Magazine

  7. I’d love to see this rebuilt and maintained. The Sout Portsmouth Park trail end would be a great resting spot for the Indian Head Tock now sitting in the Greenup maintenance shed. Combining the other local lore with the trail could pull in more support. Maybe even provide a small but growing source of revenue in addition to any enjoyed by local businesses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.