Friday, November 1, 2013

Big Rivers WMA and State Forest opens

Heartwood Forestland Group still owns 800
acres on the southeast side of Bells Mines Road
which is not part of WMA. Heartland's property is
marked with diamond shaped signs.
The Big Rivers Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and State Forest in Crittenden County opens to the public today for hunting, hiking, fishing, bird watching and other activities.

"It's the gem on the Ohio River," state Sen. Dorsey Ridley said of the expansive area.

The northern Crittenden County property will be managed by the Kentucky Division of Forestry and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).

It's a historic area. Lewis and Clark camped at the mouth of the Tradewater on their trip to the Pacific Ocean in the early 1800s. It's a place where the endangered Indiana bat has proven to live. The bat and other endangered and threatened flora and fauna helped ring up about $10 million in federal funds. The bat alone brought $700,000 to the table.

Combined with private money from Duke Energy and the Crounse Corp. of Paducah and public funds from a variety of sources, Phase 2 of the land acquisition project was formally dedicated by those who had a hand in the deal. It all started in 2008 when fish and wildlife officials got serious about buying the property at a public auction held at Union County High School. It didn't get the land deal done that day, but it did secure an option to buy part of it later. Over the last two years, the state has exercised that option.

Karen Waldrop, the KDFWR's wildlife director, said she first learned about the property even before it sold at auction. Crittenden County's Philip Sharp, a private lands biologist for the department, took her on a truck ride through the hills, then owned by Kimball.

"This is a great property and the people in the community need to be proud of it," she said, pointing out that public input will be sought as KDFWR develops a long-term management plan for the public area.

Terry Teitloff, First District commissioner on the KDFWR Board of Directors, said a comprehensive plan for the management of the WMA is being put together. Unfortunately, it will not include any type of public use for ATVs or horseback riding. Those type activities are prohibited due to restrictions placed on the deed because of some of the funding sources.

The property will be open to public hunting beginning today. There will be a 40-person quota deer hunt on Nov. 9-10. Otherwise, deer hunting is restricted to archery only. All regulations fall under the Big Rivers WMA (Union County tract) which is already printed in the 2013-14 Kentucky Hunting Guide.

Wildlife officials said hunters and other users should be aware that cattle will be present on some of the pastures through Jan. 1, when farm leases expire. Afterwards, it is unlikely that pasturing will be allowed, but row cropping will likely continue under contracts with local farmers.