BUCKHORN — State and city officials, along with the staff of the Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park, gathered at the park over the weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Buckhorn Lodge.
The celebration stretched across three days with games, buffets, campfires, and a fun run, along with special events, including an employee reunion and music by The Piano Man, who treated guests to piano music from the 1950s.
At a press conference last Friday, Nan Gorman, Mayor of the City of Hazard, presented the lodge with a large, bronze plaque of the original ribbon cutting in 1964.
Park Resort Manager Greta Gay reflected on the lake’s beginnings in 1954 and the opening of the lodge, noting that the park had been integral to the economy of Buckhorn and that people in the area were proud of its heritage and beauty.
“All the staff live right here,” Gay said. “It’s a wonderful place for them to work.”
Gay said sometimes generations of families are represented in the park’s workforce, as the children of staff workers often seek employment there. Visiting the park has also become a family tradition for many people, she said, with families holding regular reunions at the lodge. Gay continued, saying that families with ties to the lost community of Bowlingtown, which was removed in order to create the Buckhorn watershed and reservoir, return to the area three and four times a year.
“You just get a big, strong sense of family support from them,” said Gay. “They say it’s their home away from home.”
Seasonally, Gay said the park welcomes between 20,000 and 30,000 people.
Elizabeth Whitaker, whose family has come to the park every year since it opened, said the park was indeed like a home, a place they simply had to visit.
“All of the workers here - all of my kids love them, too,” Whitaker said. “My little girl would bring them a bouquet of roses, because she said they were her friends.”
Elaine Walker, Kentucky’s Commissioner of the Department of Parks, was also on-hand for the celebration. Along with the lodge’s 50th anniversary, she said the state was celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Kentucky state park system this year.
“We’ve got 49 parks across the state, and one of the great things is that we are one of the 8 or 9 state park systems that do not charge entry fees,” Walker said. “They do not charge parking fees. So, they were really designed to encourage the citizens to come out and enjoy the beauty.”
And the incredible natural beauty of Buckhorn is one of the park’s greatest assets, she said.
Walker listed many of Buckhorn’s offerings, including boating, fishing, hunting, hiking, horseback riding, and camping. Buckhorn also has unique offerings, she said, such as equestrian camping.
“If you look at the fact that we’ve got this beautiful wilderness area, we’re looking at expanding different adventure tourism opportunities,” said Walker. “There are few places more perfectly suited to have those kinds of activities than Buckhorn.”
Walker said the state was excited about the future of its parks, particularly Buckhorn, as they concentrate on accommodation upgrades, as well as an energy and water conservation program.
As the lodge staff cut their 50th birthday cake and perused historical photographs, Wayne Turner, the very first clerk employed at Buckhorn Lodge, stood by and reminisced.
“It was an interesting place to work,” he said. “I’d like to see people come from other counties and states to see us.”
He said that remains true to this day.
“They leave with a good feeling,” Turner said. “It’s just a beautiful place.”
Mindy Miller can be reached at 606-436-5771 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.