Making a second career from publicizing Kentucky’s ‘map dots’

March 16, 2014

mapdotCory Ramsey and his car’s license plate. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Cory Ramsey was a governor’s scholar who went on to earn a broadcasting and political science degree from Western Kentucky University. Then he discovered there was more money to be made welding truck frames at a factory in Bowling Green.

But in 2009, when the economy was on the ropes and Ramsey was given a layoff he knew would last only two months, he had some time to explore another passion — Kentucky’s outdoors.

CoryRamsey grew up in Hickman, a small county seat that hugs the Mississippi River at the far western edge of Kentucky. He spent his youth fishing, hunting and hiking.

Those two months off made him think there might be a way to use his communications skills to turn his love for Kentucky’s outdoors into a business opportunity.

Since then, Ramsey has built his own little media enterprise while crisscrossing the state to visit all 120 counties and every state parks.

Ramsey writes about his adventures and offers hiking advice for the state tourism department’s Outdoor Adventure blog (Getoutky.com). He posts videos on his own website (Coryramseyoutdoors.com). And he does monthly outdoor video segments for WBKO-TV in Bowling Green and radio shows for little stations across the state.

“My emphasis is on exploration made easy,” he said recently when he passed through Lexington after spending a weekend hiking in Red River Gorge. “I tell people the best places to go for a fun day outdoors.”

His latest media venture explores another passion — Kentucky’s crossroads communities and small towns, which he calls “Map Dots.” Last August, he launched the Map Dot, Kentucky Facebook page to celebrate them.

“I wanted to prove that if you take a back road you’ll see things you never knew about,” said Ramsey, who visits and photographs each place he features on the page. “What makes it work is the personal touch.”

Ramsey said he hopes to eventually cover every “Map Dot” in Kentucky, “although that may take me a few years.”

Recent Map Dots he has visited include Glendale in Hardin County, Tomahawk in Martin County, Irvington in Breckinridge County, Danville in Boyle County, Rowletts in Hart County and Columbus Belmont State Park in Hickman County.

“My message is, I have seen so much more in Kentucky than horses and bourbon and Daniel Boone and Lincoln,” he said. “You’re brought up in Kentucky with state pride, but many folks are ignorant of so much the state has. They have never taken the time to explore even the next county over.”

The Map Dot, Kentucky Facebook page so far has gotten more than 5,500 “likes.” It has steady interaction from regular readers, most of them in Kentucky or originally from the state.

“I would like to be able to travel all the time,” Ramsey said, but added that he hasn’t yet figured out how to turn his media business into a career that pays much more than enough to cover the cost of his gas.

To do that, Ramsey will have to find more freelance opportunities, sell more Map Dot T-shirts and figure out new ways to generate revenue.

Until then, he plans to keep welding for Bowling Green Metalforming, a division of Magna International that makes Explorer frames for Ford’s Louisville assembly plant. That business is booming, which has meant a lot of overtime pay for Ramsey but less time for him to explore and share the wonders of Kentucky.


Taking a bicycle ride (almost) across Kentucky

October 14, 2009

Our plan was to ride Kentucky from top to bottom, but Mother Nature had other plans.

Storms on Friday forced organizers of the Governor’s Autumn Bicycle Ride Across Kentucky to cancel the first day’s journey — 60 miles from the Ohio River at Carrollton to Frankfort.

A few brave souls did it anyway. “We came to ride, so we rode,” said John O’Cull, a Vanceburg dentist. He and three buddies arrived in Frankfort soaking wet.

The other 65 of us started Saturday morning from the Grand Theatre in downtown Frankfort. The annual ride began in 2004 to raise money for the Grand’s restoration. This year, it became part of Gov. Steve Beshear’s “adventure tourism” initiative.

We spent Saturday night at a church camp near Campbellsville, where a truck had ferried our luggage. We left from there Sunday morning and finished the ride by dipping our wheels in Dale Hollow Lake on the Tennessee line.

Saturday’s ride was 90 miles or so; Sunday’s was 70 or so. I say “or so” because some of us missed a couple of the orange Gs that had been spray-painted on the road to mark turns, so we unintentionally enjoyed a few extra miles of Kentucky scenery.

We avoided big highways whenever possible. Many roads we traveled barely rated mention on a map.

The rain stopped early Saturday, but most of the weekend was cloudy, cold and breezy.

I never know how to dress when biking this time of year. I was burning up in a light fleece jacket as we climbed a big hill Sunday on Little Cake Road in Adair County, but I felt good a couple of miles later as we passed Bearwallow Cemetery. Then I was cold as we flew down a hill on Bull Run Lane.

Only two hills got me off my bike: One was Saturday, too soon after a delicious lunch of fried chicken, corn and apples that I wanted to keep. The other was a steep, milelong climb Sunday. I made it three-fourths of the way up, but I had to stop long enough to get my heart out of my throat so I could resume pedaling.

I enjoy the camaraderie of riding with old friends and making new ones. I also like the challenge of going from place to place under my own power. Bicycle touring is like hiking, only the scenery changes faster. By the end of a long ride, my legs are burning and my butt is getting numb, but I feel as if I’ve accomplished something.

Kentucky always seems more beautiful when viewed from a bicycle. There’s nothing between you and the passing landscape. The only noise is your own heavy breathing as you go uphill and the smooth spin of your freewheel as you go down.

After Sunday brunch at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, we saw a chapel designed by architect E. Fay Jones, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a piece of world-class modern architecture that you don’t expect to find in small-town Kentucky.

Most of the ride’s sights were more subtle, and 15 miles an hour was slow enough to study them.

Tire swings hung from front-yard trees, and wood stoves were getting back to work. There was a hint of smoke in the air, and long stacks of split logs waiting to be devoured.

Golden tobacco hung from barn rafters. Amish buggies sat parked in sheds. Pumpkins were arranged in yards, and Halloween ghosts made of white trash bags dangled from trees and porches.

Morning mist blanketed still-green pastures and fading fields of cornstalks. Red sumac and yellow walnut trees stood waiting for the rest of the forest to catch up.

Old farmers and children called out and waved. Dairy cows stood and stared. Dogs watched, too, or gave chase, depending on their age, temperament and how many cyclists they had already gone after.

Riding back roads makes you realize how much of this state is made up of small farms, modest rural homes and crossroads communities barely big enough to support a store or church.

As you roll quietly from one little town to the next, there’s so much to see. Then your burning legs remind you that there’s a hill coming up and, beyond it, another colorful piece in the patchwork that is Kentucky.