As you can tell by reading these articles, I’m very proud of this airport. Managing Big Sandy Regional Airport is more than just a job for me, I consider it a duty to be an ambassador for Eastern Kentucky, especially the four counties who own this facility. When people land here for the first time I want them to have a positive image of our region, that’s why I keep the grass cut, the terminal building and bathrooms clean and landscaping as neat as I’m able to maintain. I even like to plant wildflowers around the road leading to the building, sometimes the flowers will do well and provide a classy touch to the place.
I’m also pretty particular about the 3 miles of highway leading to the airport; Airport Road. The airport doesn’t own the road but it does have our name on it so I want it to look good too. I know it’s a little selfish to think this way but I consider the runway the welcome mat to Eastern Kentucky, the airport grounds the home and Airport Road the driveway leading to our beautiful area. In reality Airport Road has it’s own identity. Many people come to enjoy Airport Road who don’t care about the airport at the end of it. The mountain views, the elk and deer grazing in the fields, the beautiful sunsets and now the apple orchard, actually make Airport Road a tourist attraction. I have talked to many people who have been staying in the lodge and campgrounds at Jenny Wiley State Park who come here for the chance to see elk.
It’s not unusual to see people with out of state license plates taking pictures along with many locals standing beside the road when the elk are out. It’s just like being in the Smoky Mountains when a bear is spotted. Over the years, I have noticed how many elderly people like to take evening drives to check out the scenery, sometimes I will see the same cars several evenings a week.
Another reason I think Airport Road is popular is the views of the sky. Most people in our area live in the valleys between our steep short hills and you just can’t see too much sky from that vantage point but here on this reclaimed surface mine you can see for miles and miles, it’s a different view.
That’s why I think it’s very important to keep Airport Road neat and attractive. Have you ever noticed how nicely the grass is cut along the edges of the road? You don’t see much garbage either do you? It’s kept that way because of a team effort along the road to keep it neat.
When the federal prison opened about twenty years ago, they started keeping all the grass neatly cut along the highway, on both sides of the road, from route 3 to the industrial park entrance, that’s about a mile. Booth Energy, seeing how neat that looked, started cutting the grass from the industrial part all the way to their mine entrance, that’s about a mile and 3/4. I would cut the grass from the mine entrance to the airport’s regularly maintained areas. That kept Airport Road maintained the entire way. No one ever coordinated the grass cutting, it was just good neighbors along the road, seeing the need and getting it done.
When the mine closed a few years back that left the biggest section in the middle without anyone to keep it maintained, I watched the grass grow for about a month and couldn’t take it any more, I keep it cut now from the airport to the industrial park, as payback for all those years that they kept it cut.
I do have a complaint though, keeping the grass cut takes about 3 hours, picking up the trash that some people throw out, takes about an hour more. I will never understand how some people will drive to Airport Road to enjoy the beauty, to look at the wildlife and then try to ruin what they are coming to see by turning the area into a their personal garbage dump. I feel the same way about the side-by-side riders who enjoy the absolutely gorgeous beauty of our hollows and mountains and then toss their litter along the very place they come to enjoy.
I have come up with a way to pick up the trash more efficiently, by using my side-by-side and one of those “reachers” I can pick up most of the litter without having to get out every time I see a beer can. I keep a small trash can beside me in the front floorboard and I can cover the mile and 3/4 in about an hour. It’s just frustrating knowing that most of the litter I’m picking up is not there because it accidentally blew out of a truck bed, it is there because someone has no pride in their community and doesn’t have the self-respect to do better.
A few years back the Kentucky Department of Education was holding a conference in Paintsville. Four women from that conference, who were from Louisville, came to Cloud 9 Cafe’ to eat one afternoon and got to see a herd of elk grazing in one of the fields. One of the women and her husband had recently been to Colorado on vacation and had seen a lot of elk there and she was absolutely amazed that elk were here in Eastern Kentucky. She was asking my daughter, Lauren, lots of questions about the elk restoration project. Lauren told her that I could answer her questions better than she could and the ladies came over to the airport after they finished eating.
She was so excited about finding this place, Airport Road. She said she just couldn’t get over how green and pretty the top of this mountain was and the abundance of wildlife. I showed the ladies the pictures I have taken of the elk around the airport and a set of elk antlers I have and told them some of the information I had learned by listening to the talks during the Jenny Wiley State Park’s elk tours. I told them that a full grown elk will eat about 40 pounds of grass per day and these reclaimed surface mines were perfect for the elk restoration project by the Kentucky Department of Wildlife and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
The lady had a stunned look on her face and she said, “Sir, this isn’t a surface mine, grass won’t grow on a surface mine, there is no way you can convince me we are standing on a reclaimed surface mine.”
I said, “Look out there in the distance, all you can see are the tops of those mountains. Mother Natue left us some beautiful mountains here in Eastern Kentucky but she never left us much level land, but the coal companies did. If you don’t believe grass will grow on a reclaimed surface mine, when you get done with your conference, you come back up to the airport. You see that orange Kubota tractor, I’ll put you on that for a couple of hours and I’m sure you will change your mind.”
(Gary Wayne Cox is airport manager of Big Sandy Regional Airport owned by Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin and Martin Counties.)