For a fifth consecutive year, the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area is promoting exploration of the national park and the activities available there through the “Go Big” challenge.
The challenge is simple: it’s one part hiking challenge, one part scavenger hunt and one part interactive, and challenges participants to get to 100 points by December 1 by participating in activities within the BSF and learning more about it.
“It’s a self-paced, year-long event that is based on the honor system,” says Ranger Mary Grimm, who has helped organize the Go Big challenge since its inception in 2016.
That first year, the Go Big Challenge was designed to promote the 100th anniversary of America’s national parks system, and the theme was “100 points for 100 years.” These days, the Go Big Challenge continues to reward participants with patches after they’ve completed 100 points, and medallions are also offered: a silver medallion for 200 points and a gold medallion for 300 points.
Even though the Go Big Challenge is in its fifth year, and continues to see increased participation, a surprising number of local residents still don’t know what the event is all about, or how to participate.
While it may be suited primarily for hikers, the Go Big Challenge is about far more than hiking. It’s all-inclusive, promoting all of the activities within the BSF. Even those who aren’t physically able to hit the trails will find ways to explore the park and collect points.
In 2020, the theme is “A Sense of Place,” focusing on the cultural history of the Big South Fork region.
“We can’t really do ‘100 miles for 100 years’ anymore, so we’ve added a theme for every year to try to promote education in the park,” Grimm said. “This year, it’s really about understanding the history of this park and the people who settled here. In the challenge, we talk a lot about the settlers and what it must have been like to live here during that time.”
Grimm said the challenge is about opening eyes to what the Big South Fork NRRA really is.
“It’s about the broad spectrum of what the park has to offer,” she said. “We want people to experience new things and new places. You can get points for camping in the campground or backcountry camping, or attending a ranger-led program. This year we’ve added a rock shelter challenge, since so much of the history of the Big South Fork is tied to the rock shelters.”
In addition to the Rock Shelter Challenge, there is the Blue Heron Challenge that focuses on that part of the BSF on the Kentucky side, a Trails Challenge, a Ranger Challenge, a Community Parks Challenge that extends beyond the BSF, and a Social Media Challenge. All are designed to help participants get to 100, 200 and 300 points.
Once you’ve downloaded a challenge booklet at nps.gov/biso, or picked one up at Bandy Creek Visitor Center, there are a lot of ways to earn points.
For example, you can earn three points if you tell how the women of the Blue Heron Mining Community got through the difficult times presented by the mining camp’s isolated lifestyle. You can find the answer by viewing the Women’s Life exhibit at Blue Heron. You can also earn three points by naming the most fondly-remembered teachers at Blue Heron’s “Little Red School House,” another answer that can be found by exploring the historic mining camp.
There are three points to be earned by exploring the Yahoo Falls rock shelter, or three for exploring the Twin Arches rock shelters, or the Fall Branch rock shelter, or the Mule Shoe Rock Shelter on the Oscar Blevins Farm Loop. And you’ll also earn extra points for exploring those rock shelters, because you have to hike to them — and you get a point for each mile hiked.
It is the latter that is the focal point of the Trail Challenge. You can get one mile for every mile you hike, every mile you pedal your bike (or an additional 20 points for pedaling the entire 33-mile Epic mountain bike route), every mile you ride your horse, or every mile you paddle the BSF River.
The challenge is also rife with history, playing into this year’s theme. Participants can earn three points for visiting the Beaty Oil Well — one of America’s first oil wells — on the Kentucky Trail, or three points for hiking Rock Creek Loop and taking a selfie with the old railroad ties that remain from the Stearns logging railroad, or three points for just obtaining the Julia Marcum and No Business Creek Civil War trading cards from the visitor center at Bandy Creek. Points are also available for hiking the No Business Trail, or visiting the John Litton Farm, or finding the gravestone of baby Archie Smith, who died of pneumonia in 1932 and is buried along the Grand Gap Loop.
“We tried to include trails that history is tied to, like Parch Corn Creek and the John Litton Farm, places that make people think about the places that people first settled here,” Grimm said.
Through the Community Parks Challenge, the Go Big Challenge extends beyond the Big South Fork to encourage exploration of Cumberland Falls State Park, Daniel Boone National Forest, Pickett State Park, the Sgt. Alvin C. York Birthplace, Historic Rugby, the Obed Wild & Scenic River, and the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge.
When the Go Big Challenge originated in 2016, it was unique to the Big South Fork, as far as national parks are concerned. Some other parks have since begun adopting variations of it for themselves — like the Iron Man Challenge at Buffalo River.
“It’s a compliment when people model you,” Grimm said.
Each year, the BSF features a series of Healthy Hikes, ranger-guided hikes along the park’s various trails. Since the Go Big Challenge began, participation on those hikes has increased. Grimm said as many as 75 to 85 hikers are usually a part of the guided hikes.
“Before, that was not the case,” she said.
This year’s Healthy Hikes began with a guided hike to the Oscar Blevins Farm on February 1.
At the end of the year, a Go Big celebration will be held at Bandy Creek, with music provided by the Scott High School bluegrass band and prizes awarded. Among the special award categories are first person to 100 points, first person to 300 points, most hiking miles, most equestrian miles, most biking miles, most overall points (male and female), youth award for most overall points, and most volunteer points.
More information about the Go Big Challenge is available by calling the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at 286-7275. But the easiest way to get started is to simply print off a booklet from the park’s website, or pick one up at the visitor center, and dive right in. It’s self-explanatory, and the points await.