Resort plans spark controversy

The purchase of 891 acres near Red River Gorge stirs questions among locals

By Grace Hamilton, Staff Writer
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Proposed to affect a place with extremely high unemployment and poverty rates, some Kentuckians believe that a new commercial enterprise would financially rejuvenate the area. Resort opposers worry that excessive ecological damage will outweigh the possible economic gains of development.

A recent multi-million dollar land purchase near Red River Gorge in Kentucky has left locals and frequent visitors distressed about the plans for its development. 

Over 891 acres of privately-owned land adjacent to Red River Gorge Geological Area in east-central Kentucky was sold in March to Red River Property Holding Group LLC. The land, owned by entrepreneur Ian Teal, was reportedly sold for around $2.25 million. 

The 29,000 acre geographical area, which lies within Daniel Boone National Forest, boasts high sandstone cliffs, rock shelters, waterfalls and natural bridges. 

The gorge is a popular spot for hiking, rock climbing and camping. The purchased land next to it contains many of the same features and diverse wildlife. 

Red River Economic Development, a non-profit arm of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation, used federal and state grants to hire Stantec, a design and engineering firm, to formulate a development plan for the region. The result was a plan for a high-end $135 million resort which includes a 170-room lodge, cottages, residential areas and a distillery. 

Supporters of the development hope to create over 500 jobs and generate more than $18 million per year in labor income for the region. 

In eastern Kentucky, the poverty and unemployment rates of some counties are nearly double the national average, while others possess a median household income that barely rests above the poverty line. 

Economic inequalities have become more apparent in past decades, since the main source of employment and revenue — coal mining — has steadily declined. 

The sale has garnered significant criticism from locals of the area, who worry that development of the Red River Gorge area will ruin a natural environment home to diverse wildlife and sandstone arches, others argue for economic rejuvenation.

“It’s a really fine line to walk,” first year Kentucky native Maya Mintu said. “If it does destroy the wildlife, that is just creating employment in the same way that employment was originally taken away, which is from economic development and destroying the environment.” 

“At the end of the day, the wildlife is creating these jobs,” Mintu said. 

Red River Gorge United, a group in the area, surveyed 472 locals to ascertain the public mood towards the development plan and land purchase. 

Seventy percent of those surveyed were opposed to the development of a resort or a residential community. More support was expressed towards the idea for a restaurant, distillery or new visitor center for the area. 

“I understand the appeal,” first year English major  Kara Morelock said. 

“The part of Red River Gorge that’s so nice is that it’s with nature, and building a resort would detract from that,” she added. 

Development on the newly-purchased land will not begin until Red River Economic Development can find a developer to build the resort or any of the other projects suggested by Stantec. 

While the search for developers and investors continues, Red River Holding Group LLC will hold the property for three years until the development can begin.