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Spotlight on Berea: Hiking the Pinnacles

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Posted at 7:00 PM, Sep 12, 2023

BEREA, Ky. (LEX 18) — As LEX 18 continues the Spotlight on Berea series, we turn our attention to the hills east of town.

Berea College owns and manages more than 9,000 acres of beautiful forest land. They've got hiking trails, all kinds of nature, beautiful wildlife, and some of the most incredible views in all of central Kentucky.

"Everything's connected to the forest. This is the source of life, literally," said Wendy Zagray Warren, the director of the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center.

The Berea College Forest is along Big Hill Road. At the trailhead, the Forestry Outreach Center offers visitors information about the plants, wildlife, and geology of the area.

"I call it the forest campus," Warren said. "We know that when our bodies relax and our minds relax, we can learn, we can retain information better. All of our bodily systems work a lot better when we're in a relaxed state."

She and staff, along with students in the forestry program, work to maintain the Berea College Forest.

"We actually have 200 small chestnut trees," Warren said. "They are working on trying to restore American chestnuts that were wiped out in the 1930s in this country."

While the forest is owned by Berea College, everyone is welcome.

"We get an average of about 5,000 visitors a month," said John Abrams, an ecologist at Berea College.

Abrams guided LEX 18's Sean Moody through the trails to the overlooks at the Pinnacles.

"We're going to take the East Pinnacle today, which is what we usually recommend for first-timers because you get a nice little break with flat walking about midway through," Abrams said.

The Pinnacles trails climb about 500 feet over the course of a mile and a half or so, and there's plenty to see along the way. Outside Magazine has named them the best hike in Kentucky.

"I'm always listening for the birds and listening to what's out there. Looking for cool insects or snakes or whatever I might be able to find," Abrams said.

Interesting wildlife you might see along the trails include the Southern Devil Scorpion, which is native to the area.

"Typically, in any kind of dry, rocky outcrop area. We find them here along slate rock banks," Abrams said.

Abrams says its sting actually hurts less than a bee sting. We also found a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar.

"It's built a silk web inside of there, and when it's hardened, it curls the leaf around, but if we peel it back, there's the little caterpillar," Abrams said. "And he has these two little eye spots, so he looks like a snake."

As hikers get higher along the trail, the geology changes.

"Right here, this light-colored rock, this is limestone. When you start seeing limestone, you know you're almost to the top. This starts around 1,380 feet for us," Abram said.

There are several vantage points at the Pinnacles. On this hike, Abrams showed off the view from East Pinnacle.

"So, we're looking out toward southeastern Kentucky. This is the beginning of the Knobs Region," Abrams said.

Hikers can see the college's reservoirs and the higher terrain in the distance. This marks the spot where the rolling hills of Central Kentucky begin to give way to the more rugged mountains to the east.

"This is the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains," Abrams said.

As you reach these magnificent viewpoints, it's best to let them soak in a bit.

"You walk out onto a big flat rock and it seems like you can see forever," Warren said.

As hikers take in the view from each of the Pinnacles' overlooks, it's easy to see why Berea College is determined to preserve this breathtaking spot.

"This is a place where we can learn well. This is a place we can enjoy and think well. I think that's why we maintain all of our 9,000 acres of land," Warren said.

The trails at The Pinnacles are open from dawn to dusk every day of the year. If you want to check out one of those organized events, you can head to the Forestry Outreach Center's website.