Every May my family treks to Big Bone Lick State Park in Boone County, not only to celebrate our anniversary (we were married at the historic church adjacent to the park), but in search of outdoor adventure and a dose of history.
From buffalo to bones, this park is significant for many reasons. One of only 582 National Natural Landmarks, the park is a geological treasure trove for its combination of late Pleistocene bone beds and salt springs. Walking through the park you can just imagine the ancient beasts that roamed these hills: mastodons, bison, ground sloth and the mammoth. Furthermore, this is the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology due to the huge role played in the development of scientific views about extinction.
The only site in Northern Kentucky to have the natural landmark status on the National Register of Historic Places, visitors today have the opportunity to learn about the ancient and more recent history of the park and surrounding area, spend time viewing an American Buffalo herd, camp, picnic and walk the bog diorama and Discovery Trail where life-size replicas of these ancient animals greet you and silently tell their stories.
From American Indians to east coast settlers, many have gazed and wondered at the “big bones” that once lay scattered about. Word of this area spread from the Indians and in 1739 a French Canadian explorer and soldier, Charles LeMoyne, “discovered” the site. Soon after, Robert Smith, an Indian trader removed the first fossils from their swampy bed. Others came and noted the site in their journals and shared the story.
These ancient bones soon became the talk of the scientific world and collectors came to add specimens to their collections of curiosities. By the early 1800s, bones were sent to collections in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and even England.
Impressed with the description of the finds at Big Bone Lick, President Thomas Jefferson sent General William Clark with a party of men in 1807, to collect more fossils. These collections of fossils appeared in cities throughout the country, including New York. Today, interest in these fossils remains high and many have studied the area in great detail.
For a taste of what it must have been like for these early researchers, step into the museum where the history of the park unfolds in displays of fossilized bones and artifacts covering 18,000 years. Also here is the gift shop featuring many Kentucky hand-crafted items. Open March-December.
The fun outdoors continues with nearly 40 acres of picnic grounds, fishing in a 7.5 acre lake, walks & hikes -including the 4.5 mile Discovery Trail, an 18-hole miniature golf course, tennis, volleyball, basketball, horseshoe pits and plenty of birding opportunities. There are 62 campsites available with a pool (for campers only) along with grills, showers, restrooms and laundry facility. Camping is available April 1- October 31. In total, the park encompasses 525 acres.
As for us, we’ll continue our annual visit to the lovely Gothic Revival (1888) Big Bone Methodist Church, also managed by the park, then we’ll delight in the natural wonders, have a picnic and undoubtedly notice something we had not seen before!
Events take place year round, for more information visit: www.parks.ky.gov and download a self-guided tour.
Big Bone Lick State Park
3380 Beaver Road
Union, KY 41091-9627