Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Steve Ruth, April 12, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:03 - Steve Ruth's history in Elkhorn City, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Uh, we are doing an interview for the Elkhorn City River Oral History Project, interviewing Steven Ruth.

Segment Synopsis: Steve Ruth, who moved to Elkhorn City, Kentucky with his family at age 8, talks about his childhood exploring along the Russell Fork River with other children. His family came to Elkhorn City to open a rock quarry and to build a road, but the project was never started.

Keywords: Adventure tourism; Adventure tourism leaders; Council members; Road construction; Rock quarry; Russell Fork River; Swimming; Water towers; Writers

Subjects: Childhood; Elkhorn City (Ky.)

00:07:38 - Walking along the railroad tracks as a child to inner tube on the Russell Fork

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Partial Transcript: But we, but we, you know, we knew, we, you know--I gradually started hearing about the history of the river.

Segment Synopsis: As a child, Ruth would walk along the railroad tracks with coal truck inner tubes to go tubing down the river. He talks about being careful about going through Potter Flats due to bullying by kids there. One time when crossing the railroad bridge, a train was coming and he had to hang his legs off the bridge, holding onto a pole, for the train to pass, because he couldn't run off in time. Other people would ride motorcycles across the bridge.

Keywords: Breaks Interstate Park (Ky.-Va.); Bullying; Coal truck inner tubes; Dams; Logging; Motorcycles; Railroad bridges; Russell Fork River; Trains

Subjects: Childhood; Potter Flats (Ky.); Railroads; Tubing (Aquatic sports)

00:12:58 - Cleaning up after the 1977 flood in Pikeville, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: When you lived here as a kid, do you remember any floods?

Segment Synopsis: After the Flannagan and Fish Trap Dams were built along the Russell Fork River, everyone said that it wouldn't flood, but in 1977 Pikeville had their worst flood. Ruth came back home early for spring break during his freshman year of college because communication had been cut off. He knew that Elkhorn City would be fine because the river goes uphill there and never floods. The creek backed up and flooded upstream, but clean up was primarily in Pikeville.

Keywords: 1977 Pikeville Flood; College students; Elkhorn Creek; Fish Trap Dam; Flannagan Dam; Flood cleanup; Flooding; Russell Fork River

Subjects: Flood damage; Floods--Kentucky; Pikeville (Ky.)

00:18:21 - When the water level is high, the river moves boulders

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Partial Transcript: What kinds of changes have you seen in the river, um, since your childhood?

Segment Synopsis: Ruth remembers hearing the rumbling of rocks beneath the surface of the Russell Fork River as a child. A shed-sized rock in the middle of the river that he used to jump off of was lost downstream during the 1977 flood. He discusses how the path through the shoal under the bridge has changed.

Keywords: 1977 flood; Boulders; Bridges; Peto's Rock; Rocks; Russell Fork River; Shoal movement; Water level

Subjects: Flood damage; Floods--Kentucky; Rivers.

00:24:32 - Coal and gas industries' impact on Russell Fork water quality

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Partial Transcript: What about water quality? Has that changed?

Segment Synopsis: Ruth talks about how the water quality has been impacted by the coal and gas industries, mostly by gas due to fewer regulations on gas well drills. He emphasizes the need to put pressure on the Kentucky water and environmental departments, but acknowledges that the government has been "bought" by coal and gas. Elkhorn City, Kentucky is positioned in a way that it is not impacted as much, but the creek has been black-lined. He also discusses abandoned machinery, and changes in logging practices.

Keywords: Abandoned equipment; Coal mining; Elkhorn Creek; Gas wells; Government; Industrial waste; Lobbying; Mountaintop removal; Regulations; Russell Fork River; Strip mining; Timber

Subjects: Coal mines and mining--Environmental aspects; Coal mines and mining--Kentucky--Pike County; Elkhorn City (Ky.); Environmental protection--Kentucky; Logging--Kentucky--Pike County; Water quality.

00:38:22 - Kayaking and rafting on the Russell Fork River

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Partial Transcript: So, do you have a favorite spot on the river?

Segment Synopsis: Ruth discusses his favorite spots along the river that are good for boating and sunning. He took an inner tube over El Horrendo as a kid but didn't learn to kayak until he returned to Elkhorn City after college. He doesn't paddle anywhere else because every time he discovers new spots moving along the different sections of the Russell Fork River. Kayaking became popular with visitors in the early 1980s after a few Olympic-level whitewater athletes discovered the area. He also talks about a bad experience with a rafting company before he moved back, and wanting to paddle his own ducky raft.

Keywords: Boating; Canyons; Dam release; El Horrendo; Haysi (Va.); Helmet run; Inner tubes; Late 1970s; Lower section; Meatgrinder; Olympic whitewater scouts; Paddling; Rafting company; Rafting duckies; Russell Fork River; Upper section

Subjects: Kayaking.; Outdoor recreation.; Rafting (Sports); Tubing (Aquatic sports)

00:50:09 - Plans for a whitewater park in Elkhorn City, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So, I've heard people talk about a potential whitewater park.

Segment Synopsis: Ruth discusses his role in planning for a whitewater park in town, starting with a feasibility study done by McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group. He hopes that Elkhorn City will be like other towns wherein whitewater parks have acted as incubators for economic development as surfers and spectators attract new businesses. Currently the river is not dependable for casual boaters or people learning to kayak. He estimates that the project will only be half a million dollars, but politicians think the project is too small. He, however, wants to be as minimally invasive as possible to keep the river natural.

Keywords: Economic incubator; Investments; McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group; Natural river experience; Politicians; Project costs; River baptism; Russell Fork River; Social activities; Surfing features; Whitewater park projects

Subjects: Economic development.; Outdoor recreation.; Rafting (Sports)

01:00:45 - Unique potential for economic development in Elkhorn City, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So, can you compare Elkhorn City and its potential and its character to things upstream and downstream?

Segment Synopsis: Elkhorn City is ideally situated because it is recognized as the end of an up-to Class V whitewater run and a takeout point for boats. Two cross-country trails, Great Eastern Trail (Pine Mountain Trail) and an east-west bicycle trail, also intersect there. Ruth speculates about the impact of mass advertising given current growth by just word-of-mouth, but he doesn't want Elkhorn City to become another Gatlinburg, Tennessee. People are skeptical about tourism and its benefit to workers, and he recognizes that the economics are best for entrepreneurs in a tourism economy, such as the development of an outdoor center for boating, hunting, and fishing.

Keywords: Bike trails; Class V rapids; Cross-country trails; Downsides; East-West bicycle trail; Economic potential; Economics of tourism; Entrepreneurship; Fishing; Gatlinburg (Tenn.); Great Eastern Trail; Haysi (Va.); Hunting; Impact of tourism; Outdoor centers; Outfitters; Pine Mountain Trail; Russell Fork River; Skepticism; Takeout points; Trails

Subjects: Economic development.; Elkhorn City (Ky.); Outdoor recreation.; River tourism.; Tourism.

01:09:44 - Hopes for young people and the future of Elkhorn City, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So, what role do you hope today's young people, people in their twenties or maybe thirties now, will play in the future in Elkhorn City?

Segment Synopsis: Community involvement has been difficult, but he is seeing more young people now than when he first moved back. More young people are getting involved in the Elkhorn City Heritage Council, and he believes that they will figure out what to do for the town. Elkhorn City had multiple grocery stores and other businesses when he was young, but it is still a great place to live. It is a good place to raise kids to play outside, and he hopes that economic development efforts will be successful so it will not die like other eastern Kentucky towns.

Keywords: Aging population; Community involvement; Eastern Kentucky; Economic downfall; Elkhorn City Heritage Council; Involvement; Young people; Youth

Subjects: Economic development.; Elkhorn City (Ky.)