In the rugged and picturesque expanse of Kentucky’s landscape, an imposing peak stands tall and regal, its narrative echoing a saga of strife and the triumphant march of conservation. Behold Black Mountain, majestically soaring to a breathtaking height of 4,139 feet, the unrivaled zenith of Kentucky’s realm, though it was not always graced with the tranquility it now enjoys.
In a bygone era, a catastrophic fire swept through the summit in the year 1896, mercilessly engulfing the mountain in fiery tongues and rendering its slopes charred and somber. This haunting spectacle bestowed upon it the name “Black Mountain,” an apt homage to its melancholic hue. But the indomitable spirit of nature proved itself, and with the passage of time, Black Mountain underwent an astonishing convalescence, evolving into a veritable haven of biodiversity, harboring rare species that exist nowhere else within the state’s boundaries.
A lofty haven it is, sheltering endangered creatures, among them the enigmatic Indiana bat, the elusive masked shrew, the New England cottontail, the eastern small-footed myotis, and the red-backed vole. Not confining its sanctuary to the realm of mammals, the mountain also embraces a collection of rare beetles, snails, and two remarkable avian denizens: the common raven and the elusive brown creeper.
However, the chronicle of Black Mountain is not bereft of challenges. The lure of coal mining, the lifeblood of the region’s economy, cast a shadow of menace upon this precious ecosystem. In the year 1998, endeavors to strip-mine for coal perilously approached a mere 1,100 feet from the mountain’s base, placing its very existence in jeopardy. Such mining would have entailed the removal of the mountain’s crown, dispatched unceremoniously into the nearby streams, thereby disrupting the delicate equilibrium of the distinctive ecological system encompassing the mountain range.
Fortunately, a groundswell of concern and outcry emerged from those discerning souls who recognized the ecological significance of Black Mountain. In response to the public’s impassioned entreaties, the Commonwealth acted with sagacity in 1999, procuring the mineral and timber rights to the summit. This sagacious move effectively shielded the area from the ravages of large-scale mining, preserving Black Mountain’s natural marvels for the bequest of posterity.
Today, a new chapter in Black Mountain’s saga is being written, as a visionary enterprise endeavor to erect a soaring observation tower, reaching a height of 40 feet, upon its summit. This undertaking aspires to bestow upon visitors a breathtaking, panoramic vista that spans the boundaries of Kentucky and Virginia. Notably, the tower’s commanding view will encompass an abandoned mountaintop removal site on Looney Ridge, a once-devastated landscape now undergoing a process of reclamation.
Accessing the summit of Black Mountain is an adventure. The roadway leading up to the peak is open to the public, though it’s worth noting that low-clearance vehicles may not fare well on the degraded gravel and dirt roadway. Driving an AWD/4WD capable vehicle is recommended, though not mandatory. Otherwise, it is an easy hike along the road. Importantly, no special waiver is required to visit the summit.
Nestled deep within the heart of Kentucky’s wilderness, where the fervent struggle to safeguard nature once clashed with the imperatives of industry, stands Black Mountain, an enduring testament to nature’s resolute spirit and humanity’s unwavering determination to protect the irreplaceable treasures that grace our fragile planet. It is a realm of awe and wonder, where rare and imperiled species find a sanctuary, and where the breathtaking panorama from its lofty peak beckons us to contemplate the intricate tapestry of the natural world. Black Mountain looms as a beacon of yearning, inviting us to cherish and preserve the untamed sanctuaries that define our shared heritage.