By Bill Robinson
Senior News Writer
In 1775, Daniel Boone and 30 axmen marked a trail from the Watauga Settlements on the Holston River in East Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap to what would be the site of Fort Boonesborough on the Kentucky River.
Called Boone’s Trace because it was not a road, the trail generally followed the migratory path used by buffaloes and American Indians.
When Kentucky was admitted to the Union as the 15th state 17 years later, an estimated 200,000 settlers had taken the trail to the Bluegrass region.
The Wilderness Road, over which wagons could pass, was cut in 1796. When the automobile became the principal mode of transportation in America, the federal highways known as US 25 and 25E in Kentucky still generally followed the route of Boone and the settlers who followed him.
By the 1970s, however, even those highways became mostly local roads as Interstate 75 became the principal north-south route from the Great Lakes to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
Riding on rails and then concrete and asphalt, the modern age has all but forgotten Boone’s Trace, and soon no trace of it may be left.
Two physicians, one from Lexington and the other from Nashville, who belong to the Boone Society are working to change that.
Dr. Sam Compton of Nashville, national president of the Boone Society, and Dr. John Fox of Lexington conducted a meeting in Richmond on Wednesday night to share their interest in preserving Boone’s Trace and turning it into an avenue of economic development, education and recreation along the corridor.
They earlier conducted a similar meeting in London.
The Richmond gathering was attended by 28 people, with most of them coming from outside Madison County.
In 1915, Kentucky members of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected 14 markers at strategic points along the trace, Compton said.
One can be found in front of Boone Tavern in Berea and the other sits on the courthouse lawn in Richmond.
In 1942, members of the DAR in Laurel County erected another seven markers there.
Properly marked and promoted, Boone’s Trace and the associated history could become “an economic engine” for the 120-mile corridor stretching from Martin’s Station, Va., just east of Cumberland and Gap to Fort Boonesborough State Park in Madison County, said author K. Randell Jones.
His book, “In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone,” lists every highway marker in the nation that documents Boone’s journeys.
An example of how a historical trail can be preserved and promoted for cultural and economic gain is more than 30 years old, Jones said.
The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which marks the route of settlers took from Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina to the Battle of Kings Mountain, was completed during the American Revolution Bicentennial in 1980 on the battle’s 200th anniversary.
It involves more than 215 miles of trails recognized by Congress with portions maintained by the National Park Service.
Boone’s Trace passes through the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and three Kentucky state parks, Pine Mountain in Bell County, Levi Jackson in Laurel County and Fort Boonesborough in Madison County, its northern terminus.
The directors of the Cumberland Gap and Levi Jackson parks are interested in the trace project, Fox said.
Scott New, who has portrayed Daniel Boone in several documentaries and re-enactments, including several events and Fort Boonesborough, also attended Wednesday night’s meeting and expressed his support.
A grant to resume an archeological dig at the fort’s site recently was awarded, New said.
A representative of the Kentucky tourism department also attended the meeting as did eight members of the Rockcastle County DAR chapter, four members of the Society of Boonesborough and the Madison County Historical Society.
Richmond City Commissioner Donna Baird, who has been a volunteer for the Richmond Tourism Commission since before she was elected the city commission, also attended.
Getting state and local governments, chambers of commerce and other local groups involved, will be key to preserving and promoting Boone’s Trace, Fox said.
For more details about the Boone’s Trace project, e-mail Compton at email@example.com.