Educating the public on how they can connect with Red River Gorge is part of a new collaboration between Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Outdoor Education and Research, FIND Outdoors and the U.S. Forest Service. The partners are hosting a grand reopening celebration of the Gladie Visitors Center Saturday, April 2 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Open for the first time since March 2020, the public is invited to the visitors center, located in the heart of Red River Gorge, to take part in a variety of games, demonstrations and other educational activities. EKU faculty and students will lead these educational efforts this weekend and will continue to utilize the Gladie Center as a location to conduct research, host classes, and provide educational workshops for the public.
Some of the activities to be conducted this weekend include a lesson on tree identification, searching for reptiles and amphibians in the creek and a Leave No Trace demonstration, according to Savannah Clark, AmeriCorps environmental educator and an EKU alum.
The university’s partnership is a welcome sight for Joey and Brittney Santiago, first-year site managers for the Gladie Visitors Center.
“EKU is a critical piece of the education puzzle,” Joey Santiago said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled about the partnership with committed, passionate students and educators from EKU. Our public lands belong to everyone and will be inherited by the next generation. Because of this, education is extremely important to pass along the knowledge needed to recreate responsibly and to ensure that this unique and fragile ecosystem stays in the best shape possible, for as long as possible.”
The university has served as a leader in the stewardship of eastern Kentucky’s natural resources since the 1970s, when the 554 acres of Lilley Cornett Woods was deeded to EKU. Throughout the years, more than 1,700 acres of natural habitat have been added through the acquisition of the Taylor Fork Ecological Area and Maywoods.
“EKU’s Division of Natural Areas provides an invaluable resource for our region of Kentucky,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “We are proud that our students and faculty are able to conduct applied and collaborative outdoor research and educational activities that work to preserve our natural areas.”
A variety of interdisciplinary collaborations and opportunities for external programs are made possible with the partnership with the Gladie Visitor Center, according to Dr. Stephen Richter, director of the Division of Natural Areas.
“EKU is a critical element of this partnership, especially in terms of public engagement,” he said. “To administer a U.S. Forest Service Visitors Center, particularly one with a cultural and environmental focus, requires business, marketing, human resources and fields related to customer service. To meaningfully engage the public draws upon expertise in natural sciences, recreation and outdoor public safety, cultural disciplines (like archeology, art and history) and social sciences. The Forest Service has done a great job of cross-training staff to serve this need at Gladie. With EKU as a partner, we can leverage the expertise of faculty and students across campus to offer public programs, help staff the front desk and lead outdoor tours of the Gladie cabin and grounds, provide interpretive hikes, organize citizen science projects and create new initiatives we haven’t even considered yet.”
“Learning about the environment around us is essential to understanding where we come from, the impact of our actions and how to solve coming environmental problems,” Clark said. “It’s our responsibility to share this knowledge and foster a love of nature in others so we can protect the places that inspire and provide for us.”
For more information about the Gladie Visitor Center, visit gofindoutdoors.org/gladie/