Five students traveled to the Clearfork Valley of Tennessee to live and learn at the Clearfork Community Institute as part the course LBAR 3910: Practicum in Liberal Arts. Zoe Davis, Gabrielle Lamplugh, Lindsay Steelman, Donna Tosh, and Taryn Wilson share a desire for adventure and an openness for experiencing rural life in former coal-mining communities that stretch along the border of East Tennessee and Kentucky.
By Dr. Mark Wilson, Director of Civic Learning Initiatives and van driver
Today we ventured to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park near Middlesboro, Kentucky. Cumberland Gap was the first gateway to the west, and most historic images depict Daniel Boone’s famous passage in the late 19th century. The park’s visitor has an impressive museum and crafts store, and the friendliest staff anywhere. Lucas Wilder, who remembered our group from Auburn last year—in a good way—gave us an informative tour covering everything including geology, ecology, history, and classic tour guide jokes and riddles. Lucas is completing a master’s degree in history on the topic of Cumberland Gap and the role of the Appalachian mountains in the Civil War.
Cap Gave is one of the few nationally protected caves that allows public tours, and the two-hour tour is worth much more than the meager admission price. A brown bat heading out for dinner greeted us at the cave entrance. We saw most of his friends inside the cave, always on the lookout for the fluttering of wings. Unlike privately owned or commercially owned cave that are open for tours, this cave has no interior lights to protect the cave’s ecosystem. So each visitor is handed a flash light and instructions: watch your head; don’t shine light directly on bats, salamanders or cave crickets, and don’t take pictures while walking.
We also walked around Middlesboro, Kentucky for a while and enjoyed lunch at the Bell County Historical Society and Museum. The Museum resides in the original Carnegie Library, and it has several exhibits featuring all aspects of Middlesboro history, including the pre-history related to the town being created inside of meteor crater. The town was founded by Arthur Alexander, who discovered the massive coal and iron ore deposits and successfully secured the investment of the American Association on England to finance the purchase of massive landholdings in Kentucky and Tennessee. The rest of our week in Eagan and Clairfield, TN is in part discovering and experiencing the legacy of colonialism, absentee landlords, and the extraction of the natural resources to build industrial America with little or no concern for the consequences on the people, forests, and mountains of Appalachia.