The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is once again in 2021 encouraging guests of the 125,000-acre national park to “go big,” earning patches and competing for prizes by exploring the BSF throughout the year.
The interactive Go Big Challenge is self-guided and self-paced, and encourages visitors to the Big South Fork to earn at least 100 points by Dec. 1 by hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding or otherwise enjoying the national park.
Participants in the Go Big Challenge should start by downloading the Go Big 2021 Challenge booklet. This year’s challenge is broken down into seven categories, each of which is detailed in the booklet. There are multiple ways to earn points; it is up to each participant to decide how they want to tackle the challenge. At least 100 points are needed to obtain the official patch of the 2021 challenge. Those who receive 200 points will earn a silver medallion, and those who receive 300 points will earn a gold medallion.
The theme of the Go Big 2021 Challenge is Flora & Fauna, as the Big South Fork encourages visitors to learn about the animals and plants that inhabit the national park.
The most straight-forward way of earning points in 2021 is to simply get out and hit the trails or the waters within the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. For each mile hiked, pedaled, ridden or paddled, visitors will receive one point.
For example, a leisurely hike on the Angel Falls Trail that begins and ends at Leatherwood Ford and is the most popular — and one of the easiest — trails within the BSF is worth four points. The trail is four miles long — two miles from the trailhead to Angel Falls, and two miles back.
As another example, a whitewater kayaker who paddled the entire river system from the upper portion of Clear Fork to Blue Heron would receive 54 points and be more than halfway to 100 points. That’s how many miles it is from Peters Bridge on the south end of the park to Blue Heron on the north end.
Of course, the Big South Fork’s waters aren’t necessarily just for whitewater paddlers. Recreational kayakers and canoeists often take advantage of the Big South Fork, as well — though the upper runs, generally upstream of the O&W Bridge, are only for paddlers with whitewater gear. A day trip from Leatherwood Ford to Station Camp (paddlers must be familiar with the river so they can portage Angel Falls rapid) would be worth eight points; it is eight miles between the two points.
Still another way to earn points would be to bike the entirety of the five trails that make up the International Mountain Biking Association’s “Epic” designation for Big South Fork. All of them can be accessed from the Bandy Creek Visitor Center and while novice cyclists aren’t likely to want to tackle them all at once, hard-core riders often pedal the five trails together as one. They are the Collier Ridge Loop, West Bandy, Duncan Hollow Loop, Grand Gap Loop and John Muir segment, and together they total about 34 miles — meaning they’re worth 33 points. As a bonus, participants who pedal the entire route earn 20 bonus points.
More Specific Challenges
Covering the miles in the Big South Fork’s backcountry is only one way to earn points. Downloading the Go Big challenge booklet gives participants opportunities to earn additional points while they hike or otherwise explore, and also offers opportunities for those who aren’t able to get into the backcountry to earn points.
There’s a Blue Heron challenge, for example, that allows participants to earn up to 30 points by seeking answers to trivia questions by exploring the historic mining camp on the Kentucky side of the national park.
There’s a flora challenge that allows visitors to earn up to 39 points by locating a variety of flowering plants that are found within the Big South Fork. The plants, which are worth three points each, are categorized by when they bloom — such as bloodroot in early spring, Cumberland azalea in early summer, and ironweed in autumn.
Another challenge is the Critter Challenge, which offers points for exploring and finding signs of certain animals that live inside the park — such as glow worms, black bears and beavers. There are bonus points available for actually seeing some of the animals.
Visit Other Parks
The Go Big Challenge allows participants to work towards the 100-point, 200-point or 300-point goals by visiting other parks in the region and partaking in activities there, as well. Among them are the BSF’s two sister parks within the National Park Service system, the Obed Wild & Scenic River and the Manhattan Project National Historic Park. Other parks include Cumberland Mountain State Park in Crossville, Frozen Head State Park in Wartburg, Daniel Boone National Forest, and Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.
For example, you can earn four points just by visiting the Cumberland Gap visitor center, or four points for visiting the Bell Farm in Daniel Boone National Forest, four points for visiting the Obed Wild & Scenic River visitor center, or four points for taking the short hike to Debord Falls at Frozen Head State Park.
Volunteer and Earn Points
The BSF’s Go Big Challenge offers lots of points for participants who get involved through its Ranger Challenge. You can earn 50 points simply by volunteering to become a Trail Keeper. The BSF’s Trail Keepers essentially adopt a trail, hiking it at least once each quarter to check it for downed trees and other problems, and coordinating their findings through the BSF’s Effie Houston.
Volunteers can also earn one point per hour for working inside the park at special events and on special projects. And, visitors can earn five points for each ranger-led program they attend in 2021.
Additionally, participants can earn up to 40 points if they attend all four of the BSF’s major events in 2021: the Spring Planting Festival on April 24, Decoration Day on May 15, the Blue Heron Ghost Train on Sept. 11 and Haunting in the Hills on Sept. 18. Additional points opportunities: earn 20 points for riding the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, or 20 points for spending the night at Charit Creek Lodge; 10 points for swimming in the Bandy Creek Campground swimming pool, or 10 points for camping inside the park at either a developed campground or in the backcountry.
Finally, the BSF will offer opportunities to earn points on social media throughout the year. On the first Tuesday of each month, the NPS will present Trivia Tuesday on the BSF’s Facebook page. Correct answers are worth points.
Go Big Celebration
On Dec. 11, the BSF will host its annual Go Big Challenge Celebration, honoring each person who successfully completed the challenge. There will be several awards given, including an award for the person who hiked the most miles, the person who biked the most miles, the first person to 100 points, the most overall points by a youth, and et cetera.
To download the Go Big Challenge booklet, click here.