Jackson County Parks

Something for everyone trying to shake off the winter blahs

Winter is finally beginning to ease its grip to make way for sunshine and warmer weather. It is the perfect time to shake off those winter blahs and discover everything the Jackson County Department of Parks and Recreation has to offer.

“They’ve got something for everyone,” says Darrell Combs, Jackson County Parks superintendent.

Combs’ department maintains 118 acres in five county parks, each with a variety of amenities and activities for your family.

The parks include the Big Hill Welcome Center, Flat Lick Falls, Gray Hawk Park, Sand Gap Community Park and Worthington Park. Each has a variety of amenities for sports, picnics, barbecues or walking to stay fit.

Big Hill Welcome Center

Big Hill Welcome Center

Big Hill Welcome Center

The Big Hill Welcome Center sits on three acres along Highway 421 near Sand Gap. It may be better known as the Simpson-Cox House, which was used as a Civil War hospital during the Battle of Big Hill in 1862.

The property was purchased by The Nature Conservancy as part of the Rockcastle River Project, a land conservation program. Jackson County Fiscal Court later purchased the property and renovated it in 2006 with a TEA (Transportation Equity Act) grant. It now serves as a welcome center and interpretive site.

Flat Lick Falls

Flat Lick Falls

Flat Lick Falls

Flat Lick Falls, located off Highway 421 near Gray Hawk, is one of the county’s hidden treasures. It consists of more than five miles of hiking trails, a bath house, a wheelchair-accessible overlook and a 28-foot waterfall along Flat Lick Creek that is one of the most picturesque spots in the state.

The waterfall was once on private property, but it now belongs to Jackson County and has been transformed into a public park and the county’s only public swimming hole.

“Flat Lick Falls is one of the real treasures of Jackson County,” says Judy Schmitt, a Jackson County volunteer project coordinator. “When the weather is nice and school is out, there is almost always someone swimming there.”

Gray Hawk Park

Gray Hawk Community Park is a nine-acre piece of property that sits just off Highway 421 adjacent to McCammon Branch and McCammon Ridge Falls. It includes playgrounds, picnic shelters, a soccer field, basketball court, restrooms and a horse ring that plays host to an annual horse show.

Sand Gap Community Park

Sand Gap Park: Darrell Combs, left, and his grandson, Dylan, maintain Jackson County’s parks.

Sand Gap Park: Darrell Combs, left, and his grandson, Dylan, maintain Jackson County’s parks.

The Sand Gap Community Park is a six-acre piece of property that sits on S-Tree Road just off Highway 421. It consists of playgrounds, picnic shelters, a basketball court, tennis courts, a baseball field and a paved walking track.

Worthington Park

Worthington Park sits just off Highway 3630 near Annville. It is a 14-acre piece of property built on two levels. On the upper level you will find playgrounds, a basketball court, horseshoe pits, picnic shelters, grills, a baseball field and restrooms. The lower level sits adjacent to Pond Creek and consists of more picnic shelters and grills, a climbing cage and a paved walking track.

“There really is a wide selection of things to do,” Combs says. “There is just about always something going on.”

For more information about the area’s parks, visit www.visitjacksoncountyky.com.

Spencer’s Dairy Bar

A Booneville tradition

The Spencers have been feeding the folks in and around Owsley County since World War II.

Randall Spencer and his wife, Judy, stand in front of his drive-in restaurant in Booneville. The Spencer family has operated eateries in the area since 1945.

Randall Spencer and his wife, Judy, stand in front of his drive-in restaurant in Booneville. The Spencer family has operated eateries in the area since 1945.

“Sixty-eight years is a long time,” says Randall Spencer, whose dad, Lewis Spencer, has founded seven restaurants in the area — the first in 1945. “They tell me that we are the second-oldest business in Owsley County.”

The Spencers’ first eatery was called The Corner Restaurant and sat where the Owsley County Board of Education is now. But while the other restaurants came and went, Spencer’s Dairy Bar has stood the test of time.

The drive-in burger joint has been a Booneville landmark since 1985. It is a throwback to an era gone by, and like those olden days, Spencer’s is a hub of social activity.

“We slow down some in the winter, but in the warmer months we really get busy,” Spencer says. “We have people from surrounding counties that will come in to eat here. They don’t seem to mind the drive at all.”

They make the drive for one of about 40 menu items, but Spencer says the burgers are the most popular — especially the Big Spencer Special, which is a combo meal including a burger, fries and drink.

Spencer’s features a number of baskets and box lunches, but what drive-in restaurant would be complete without ice cream, shakes, hot fudge sundaes and banana splits?

 The Spencers opened their first eatery, known as The Corner Restaurant, in Owsley County in 1945.

The Spencers opened their first eatery, known as The Corner Restaurant, in Owsley County in 1945.

“Our ice cream is very popular — and the hot fudge cakes,” Spencer says.

There is no indoor seating, which is part of Spencer’s charm. Customers order at a walk-up window and wait in their cars or at one of the picnic tables under the covered patios.

He says they don’t place a lot of ads promoting the restaurant and instead trust in the oldest and most reliable form of advertising — word of mouth.

“We’ve been here so long, people know us,” he says. “They are going to eat here anyway.”

Spencer has worked in the restaurant since 1990. He retired from teaching in 1994 to operate the family business full time. He now runs the Dairy Bar with his brother and sister.

Spencer’s is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. When the weather warms up, they will extend their hours until 10 p.m. 

A journey of courage and commitment

Rob Jones is nearing the end of his cross-country journey that brought him through Jackson County on his trek from Bar Harbor, Maine, to San Diego, Calif.

When the journey is done, Jones will have completed a feat any cyclist would be proud of. But what makes Jones’ accomplishment even more remarkable is that he is completing the six-month, 5,400-mile journey without both of his legs.

Rob Jones pedaled through the area on his cross-country journey after losing both legs while serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines.

Rob Jones pedaled through the area on his cross-country journey after losing both legs while serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines.

Jones lost both his legs in Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. His cross-country journey is a challenge to himself, a mission to raise awareness for wounded servicemen and a way to raise money for charity.

“I knew I wanted to do an adventure when I finished my physical therapy,” he says. “I was learning to ride a bike anyway, so this seemed like a natural thing to do.”

By the end of his journey, Jones hopes to have raised $100,000 for charities such as The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, The Semper Fi Fund, and Ride2Recovery.

“It’s simple really,” he says. “I am committed to giving back to the organizations that were there for me in my darkest hours.”

Jones began his epic journey on Oct. 14, armed with a bike and specially designed prosthetic legs. He pedaled through Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. He averages about 30 miles a day.

Riding a bike is no easy task when both legs are prosthetic. “Most people don’t understand just how difficult it is to ride a bike with prostheses,” he says. “Most people use their quads, calves and glutes to pedal, while I am only able to use my glutes and hip flexors.” Many thought his trek couldn’t be done, but he has overcome broken prosthetic parts, bike parts and truck parts to keep on cycling.

Jones is accompanied on his journey by his brother, Steve, who follows in a truck filled with supplies. Jones says the people along the way have been very kind and helpful, often pledging money to his cause, offering a free meal or a free hotel room.

“Everyone we have met has been very supportive,” he says. “So far we have managed to get free hotel rooms along the way, but we can sleep in the truck if we need to.”

A combat engineer with the Marine Corp., Jones was clearing an area of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) on July 22, 2010, when one of the explosives detonated. He lost both his legs and was awarded a Purple Heart. But he was determined to keep fighting.

He took up rowing and won a slot in the 2012 Paralympics in London where he brought home a Bronze Medal, epitomizing the Paralympic motto — Survive. Recover. Live.

His decision to cycle from the northeast to southwest stems from his unwavering desire to help other U.S. Servicemen.

For more information about Jones, his journey, or to donate to his cause, visit www.robjonesjourney.com, or “Like” him on Facebook at Rob Jones Journey. 

PRTC is feeding families

Joyce Marks, director of the Jackson County Food Bank, says her organization is seeing record requests for meals.

Joyce Marks, director of the Jackson County Food Bank, says her organization is seeing record requests for meals.

Rebecca Koury recently met a couple who lost their food stamp benefits when the wife began working.

Koury, a Jackson County Food Bank board member, says the woman felt such a sense of pride and renewed self worth that she refused to quit working even though others had suggested she do just that because her income is less than what she had received in food stamps.

“She says she feels so good about herself and about getting out and helping provide for others that her family will  make it work somehow,” Koury says. “I think it is so amazing and such a beautiful thing that this family is going to make it work and trust that the Lord will take care of them.”

And one of the ways He provides is through area food banks. There are many families, such as this one, that rely on donations from area food banks to make it through each month with enough to eat. These food banks are in need of donations so they can continue to provide food in the local community.

Joyce Marks, executive director of the Jackson County Food Bank, works to keep the hungry fed.

Joyce Marks, executive director of the Jackson County Food Bank, works to keep the hungry fed.

Joyce Marks, director of the Jackson County Food Bank, says times are tough because there are few job opportunities in and around Jackson County. This means area food banks are hit harder with requests for food.

“We are serving record numbers of people,” she says. “The economists keep saying things are getting better, but we don’t see it.”

The Jackson County Food Bank spent $2,245 more donated funds for food in 2012 than in 2011. Marks says the figures for 2013 were up again, too.

Increased demand means Marks has cut out a lot of unnecessary purchases for the Jackson County Food Bank such as cooking oil and flour. “We run a tight ship,” she says.

PRTC CEO Keith Gabbard presents a check to Angela Sparks of the Sand Gap Food Pantry. PRTC gives to all area food banks.

PRTC CEO Keith Gabbard presents a check to Angela Sparks of the Sand Gap Food Pantry. PRTC gives to all area food banks.

But Marks praises PRTC for helping all area food banks survive the upcoming year. For the past seven years, PRTC has matched a portion of funds donated to the food banks between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.

“This is such an important collection for the food bank because what we get enables us to make it through the coming year,” Marks says.

In 2013, PRTC donated $10,000 in customer donation matches to the following area food banks: Jackson County Food Bank, Sand Gap Food Pantry and Owsley County Food Place.

Connie Sams, a PRTC employee in Booneville, presents a check to Jerry Lacefield of the Owsley County Food Place.

Connie Sams, a PRTC employee in Booneville, presents a check to Jerry Lacefield of the Owsley County Food Place.

“We really appreciate everything they do,” says Jerry Lacefield, director of the Owsley County Food Place and pastor of First Baptist Church in Owsley County. “Their generosity enables us to help so many people in this county.”

In Sand Gap, Angela Sparks says the food pantry there relies on PRTC’s contributions.

“It is wonderful the way they support the community,” she says. “So many families benefit from their generosity and go to bed with full bellies because of it.”

To donate:

For information on organizing a donation or food drive for your business, church or community group, please follow these links:

Jackson County Food Bank



Owsley County Food Place


Sand Gap Food Pantry


Save with Paperless Billing

Reducing paper use and protecting the environment are pretty good reasons to sign up for Paperless Billing, but now there’s even more.

Sign up for Paperless Billing and get a FREE PRTC T-Shirt and a $10 credit on your next phone bill. With Paperless Billing, customers will be billed by email and can click to pay their bill online.

For more information or to sign up, call 606-287-7101 or stop by either PRTC Business office.  

Calling all scholars!

PRTC is accepting applications from high school seniors for 2014 scholarships

The scholarships are awarded based on a variety of criteria including academic achievement, community involvement and an essay detailing the student’s plans for the future. Applications must also include one personal reference and one academic reference.

The deadline to apply is April 15. For more information and to get an application, visit  www.prtc.org.

PRTC gives back to area fire departments

Our community is important to us at PRTC, and that is why we want to recognize volunteers that work tirelessly to protect our communities and ensure we stay safe.

PRTC has donated $1,000 to each area volunteer fire department. In Owsley County that includes Island City Fire Department, Vincent Fire Department and Booneville Fire Department. In Jackson County that includes McKee Fire Department, Sand Gap Fire Department, Gray Hawk Fire Department and Pond Creek Fire Department.

“Our fire departments protect our communities from emergencies of all kinds,” says Keith Gabbard, PRTC chief executive officer. “They donate countless hours and tirelessly sacrifice to give back to our citizens, for whom they care deeply about. This is our way of saying ‘Thank you.’”


Connecting you to the future

Keith Gabbard

Chief Executive Officer

It has been almost 30 years since our imaginations were captured by the movie “Back to the Future.” One of the reasons it became the top-grossing film of 1985 is that we as humans are fascinated with the idea of seeing what the future holds.

Keith Gabbard

Keith Gabbard

Spend a few minutes online searching for news articles covering the recent Consumer Electronic Show (CES), and you will start to get a fairly clear picture of the future. The show is billed as “the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies.”

Josh Seidemann is director of policy for our national trade group, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. He attended CES and kept rural telcos informed about what he saw. “You cannot leave CES without the growing sense that beginning now we are becoming increasingly connected to machines that measure, analyze and interpret our data,” wrote Seidemann at ntca.org/new-edge. “So, if I had to describe what impressed me the most, it would not be any particular product — rather, it is the proliferation of connected devices and how normal their use will become.”

Even if we’d had a time-traveling DeLorean, it would have been difficult to predict all this connectivity. In the early days of the Internet, even the tech leaders were short-sighted. Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and inventor of Ethernet technology, wrote in a magazine column in 1995 that “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”

I think it’s safe to say, 17 years later, that the Internet is here to stay.

When we first rolled out Internet service in this region, no one could have foreseen the level of connectedness we are seeing today. Already, many households have simple devices they can control with their smartphones or tablets, including security cameras and lighting controls. But change is coming fast. Think about some of these products displayed at CES, and how you might use them in your home:

  • An infant sleep monitor that fits into a chest pocket of a baby’s clothing, tracking breathing, temperature and even how the baby is positioned, sending all this information to your mobile device
  • A simple heart monitor you can wear comfortably that will send your electrocardiogram to your smartphone and to a physician to monitor your heart remotely
  • A tiny device you can wear that will record information about your movement and activities, then display the information in an app

All this talk of the future emphasizes an important point. As your telecommunications company, we don’t know what’s coming — but through the network we are building, we are committed to equipping you to fully participate in all the future has to offer.

I think Seidemann said it best: “Sure, we could live without all the technology, but you could also hike down to the creek with a washboard to launder your old socks. Fact is, we expect electricity, we expect water, we expect broadband.” I couldn’t agree more.

Sweet potatoes get their day in the sun

Sweet potatoes — they’re not just for holiday meals anymore. With the popularity of sweet potato chips and fries, more farmers are growing them than ever before and more consumers are enjoying them year round.

Evelyn Rudd

Evelyn Rudd

Evelyn Rudd has lived her life in Benton, Ky., a town that has an affinity for the once-lowly spud. There was a time when farmers came in droves to sell their sweet potatoes on the town square. Soon, it grew into a huge community event. Now, 170 years later, the folks of Benton roll out the red carpet in honor of sweet potatoes.

“In the past, there was a huge focus on sweet potatoes and people selling them,” Evelyn recalls. Now, she says, it draws vendors selling a variety of food and wares. It’s a festival atmosphere that draws crowds from in town and out. “The whole town shuts down.”

Evelyn grew up eating sweet potatoes. Her mother had a garden, and the family ate them year round. “I’ve always loved them,” she says.

For decades, Americans mainly consumed sweet potatoes in casseroles flowing with butter and marshmallows on Thanksgiving and Christmas, resulting in dishes full of flavor, but also fat and calories. In recent years, however, this mainstay of southern agriculture has charted new territories — on restaurant menus, in healthy drinks and as frozen french fries and tater tots on grocery store aisles.

Sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrition. Just one cup of mashed sweet potatoes gives you healthy doses of vitamin A, critical for eye health, and vitamin B6, needed for heart health. So eating them with as few additives as possible is the healthiest way to go.

“Most of the time I bake them like a regular baked potato, but I top them with butter and cinnamon or nutmeg,” says Evelyn.

Just like any good cook, she has a library of cookbooks, their pages dog-eared and stained through years of use, the mark of any seasoned cook. And it’s her sweet potato recipes that get the most use.

“There’s just something about Kentucky soil that makes our sweet potatoes even sweeter,” she says.

Perfect pies, super soufflés

Sweet potato pie

Sweet Potato Pie photo1/4  cup butter
1/2  cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Cream together butter and sugar. Add hot potatoes and eggs. Mix well. Mix in syrup, milk, salt, vanilla and cinnamon. Pour into a 9-inch unbaked pie crust. Bake 10 minutes at 425º F. Reduce heat to 325º F and bake until done.

Caramel sweet potato soufflé


3 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Caramel sauce:

1 1/2 cups white sugar, divided
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter

For soufflé: Mix all soufflé ingredients, pour into soufflé dish or casserole and bake at 350° F for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and, while still warm, top with caramel sauce and serve.

To make caramel sauce: Caramelize 1/2 cup sugar by putting in skillet over medium heat; cook, stirring, until sugar is golden brown; set aside. In separate pan, add 1 cup sugar to milk and cook slowly until bubbly; add butter and stir until melted and combined. Mix in caramelized sugar, stirring to combine. Pour over sweet potatoes. 

Sweet Potato Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
2 eggs
1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Mix together dry ingredients; add eggs, sweet potatoes, milk and olive oil; mix until thoroughly blended. Stir in nuts, then pour into a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan. Bake in preheated 350° F oven for 1 hour 15 minutes (if using a dark nonstick pan reduce oven heat to 325° F). Check for doneness by inserting toothpick in center of loaf. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Sweet Potato Cobbler

2 cups thinly sliced sweet potatoes
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
Nutmeg, to taste

Bring sweet potatoes and water to boil, cooking until tender; drain potatoes, then add 1 cup sugar and butter; set aside. In separate bowl, mix together oil, 1/2 cup sugar, flour and milk; pour into greased baking dish. Add hot sweet potatoes over batter. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake in 350° F oven for 20 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Crust will envelope sweet potatoes as cobbler cooks. 

Tater Day

The Kiwanis Club of Benton, Ky., is gearing up for its biggest event of the year, bigstock-Fresh-Organic-Orange-Sweet-Pot-41406793the annual Tater Day, celebrating the town’s beloved relationship with sweet potatoes. It’s always held on the first Monday in April, which this year falls on April 7. Now in its 170th year, it continues to grow in popularity. Folks from near and far come for a day of old-fashioned fun. The town closes up and the festival opens with a big parade.

It all started when local farmers would bring their sweet potatoes and their potato slips to the court square to sell them. There are still a few vendors who sell sweet potatoes, but these days it’s more about having fun and enjoying horse races, mule pulls and other contests, including the always-popular barbecue cook-off. It’s a day for old-fashioned fun sponsored by the Benton Kiwanis Club. For more information or to see what’s cooking for the 2014 Tater Day, log onto www.bentonkykiwanisclub.org.