By Joel Skousen
Kentucky and Tennessee are a couple of my favorite states for relocation for those already in the East looking for safety. They are both in or beyond the Appalachian chain of mountains which will channel refugee flows coming from the east into known highway corridors, which can be strategically avoided. First, let me offer some general comments about Kentucky, which is a very diverse state, with 13 distinct geographic regions, each with their good points and bad.
Far western Kentucky includes alluvial plains and small hills with good basement potential but not as much forestation as the east. But be careful, certain western counties surrounding Madisonville also have large coal deposits. The low lying areas south of the Ohio River, however, are nearly flat and thus poorly drained, thus leading to a lot of wetlands.
Where good drainage allows, the land is fertile and productive. The cities of Louisville, Owensboro, and Henderson along the river are highly industrialized, with pockets of poor crime-prone areas.
The East/central Bluegrass region around Lexington is probably the most sought after area in Kentucky and is known for its horse farms. The land is expensive because of that but you can still find reasonable land away from the horse farms. I’m partial to the south/central area around Bowling Green, Ky, This is a great small city that has friendly people and low crime. It is surrounded by great country farms with lots of patches of forest and trees.
Kentucky has the advantage of having huge swaths of forested land out in the main farm areas of the state. If you look on the satellite view at Google Maps you can see a very broad swath of forest land starting just south of Louisville and meandering back and forth, east and west of I-65 on its way south to Bowling Green. When you find farmland backed up to these forested areas, you get both farm self-sufficiency and forested retreat privacy.
Your choices in Kentucky are broader than you think, but the important thing is to follow these general criteria: 1) find land with basement potential, 2) good water resources (well, spring, or creek), 3) a mix of forestation for shielding and open land for cultivation, and 4) the home site should not be visible from any main or secondary paved road.
For higher security farms and retreats, a lot of preppers are attracted to the Daniel Boone National Forest which is located along the Cumberland Plateau in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky—the subject of this briefing. It encompasses over 700,000 acres of very rugged terrain and characterized by steep forested ridges and deep ravines—less than 15% is in private hands.
This is also coal country, especially in the regions abutting the national forest, where the most private land is found. Here, you do have to be careful of pollution from mining as well as the uncertainties of not owning the mineral rights under your property. Be especially careful about buying land after it has been strip-mined and then “reclaimed,” by bringing in fill dirt of unknown quality.
As a consequence of coal and difficult terrain, the region is highly depressed financially as coal has been strangled by environmental regulation and farming has never done well in small plots—though that’s what we want for retreat farming if they otherwise meet the above criteria. The eastern counties of Kentucky have hundreds of small, mostly dying towns. The downside of all this is that newcomers to the area are looked upon with some suspicion. Why would anyone want to come to a place where there are few jobs?
Another negative is the political orientation of Eastern Kentucky–a Democratic stronghold due to the mining and welfare mentality that persists in this area. Even though Kentucky is in the hands of two Republican Senators, Rand Paul is a positive, and future Senate Majority Leader McConnell is a problem—a compromising Republican leader who talks a good story but doesn’t follow through, except to support the Powers That Be.
Weather is often cloudy and rainy in the Appalachians, so you have to be prepared for that. The rain provides abundant water resources but is not the best for livability.
For a look at the various divisions of the national forest, open up this link to the official map. The long national forest extends almost to the Ohio border in the north down to Tennessee in the south. It is divided into 3 districts, the Cumberland to the north, the London district in the center and the Stearns district to the south. But, notice that there is a large district to the East called the Redbird district that is rarely shown in green (designating national forest) on most maps.
That’s probably because it is riddled with private land, which is great for retreat farms. And there’s a good-sized town in the middle, Manchester, Ky. In this district, you’re surrounded by national forest but there’s plenty of private lands to choose from—unlike the West where most national forests are locked up tight and where “inholders” are few and far between (and treated with some hostility by the Forest Service). By the time these large forested lands were turned into national forests in the Appalachians, there was already way too much private farming to buy them all out, so they remain as “inholders.”
Normally, in Western states, I discourage the buying of remote inholding lands because there are too few property owners to mount an effective legal battle against the federal government should they choose to arbitrarily close off your access (which they have done in the past). I don’t think confiscation of inholding land is a danger in this area because there are so many private holdings, and the constitution requires compensation (money the feds don’t have).
Some of the best areas of the National Forest in which to find private land is in the Southern Stearns District, West of Williamsburg along highways 92 and 478. You don’t want to locate along those particular highways, but there’s a lot of private land and smaller roads branching off from both where you can find secluded homes and forested land. In the middle of the district are the tiny towns of Stearns and Pine Knot which become the tourist and service centers for those living inside the National forest.
I actually prefer the land outside the forest between the town of Montecello, Ky and the western border of the DB National forest, bounded by the meandering south fork of the Cumberland river. This is where you find real retreat land, already carved out by small farmers, but no major tourist roads or traffic—and less coal mining.
The central London District goes from Lake Cumberland in the south to the Kentucky River farther north. This district is between the two major towns of London to the east and Somerset to the West, which provide good commercial access to those who find retreat sites amid the forest in between. I-75 also crosses through the forest from SE to NW so stay clear of that passageway. Much of the good retreat property near Somerset is to the East before you get to the National Forest, so don’t think you have to get within the national forest to be safe. This central district is one of the few places that has a river running north/south through it (most other rivers simply cross the plateau West-East). There isn’t much private land along this Rockcastle river, but there is some. Follow it on Google maps (satellite view) to find cultivated parcels.
The northern district (Cumberland) is East of Lexington, Ky, a major city so there is more pressure on this area for second homes for the wealthy of Lexington. But still, there are plenty of rural farms available. If you need to be near a big city like Lexington, locate east of I-75 so you don’t have any major obstruction blocking your access to the mountains to the east. The towns of Winchester and Mt. Sterling are ideal for being fairly close to Lexington but also very close to the mountains.