Articles & Stories

Nada Tunnel: The "Gateway
To The Red River Gorge"

Many Have Stood In Line On The Nada Tunnel Road In Powell
County, Kentucky, For Its Cool Mountain Spring Water

By Billie Sue Graybeal - 2008

Most of the residents in and near Powell County, Kentucky, can tell you about the mountain spring located on Nada Tunnel Road.

 

Nada Tunnel in Powell County, Kentucky, serves as the "Gateway to Red River Gorge." This tunnel is 900 feet long and was opened in 1912 for rail cars to carry the timber out of the gorge and transport it to Clay City and points beyond.
(Photo courtesy of Billie Sue Graybeal.)

 


 

Nearly anyone you talk to who has visited the Red River Gorge knows about the spring. Motorcycle riders and bicyclists stop by from time to time as they enter the gorge for a wonderful trip across the rugged mountain terrain. The mountain spring, located just a short distance from the entrance to Nada Tunnel, is a source of water for many of the families in the area. It is also a "must-stop" on Highway 77 (Nada Tunnel Road) for all of the gorge visitors who return each time they visit to sample a drink of the cool, clear, mountain water.
Nada Tunnel Road turns off Route 11 between Stanton and Slade in Powell County. Because of its unique nature, Nada Tunnel is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1910 two teams of workers began chipping away on each side of the mountain and worked their way to the middle to create a way through for the logging that had begun in the gorge in the early 1900s. There was no modern equipment to assist the workers, except for steam-powered jackhammers and carbide lamps. Most of the work was done by hand with picks and shovels after dynamite was placed to dislodge some of the mountain's thick rocks. The one-lane, 900-foot-long tunnel was opened in 1912 for rail cars to carry the timber out of the gorge and transport it to Clay City and points beyond.
The tunnel measures 13x12x900, and the one-lane road today serves as the "Gateway to Red River Gorge." The Red River Gorge area is famous all over the world for its beautiful flora and fauna, rock formations, and the over 100 stone arches found there. Climbers flock to the gorge to try their luck on the rock formations throughout the gorge.

Debbie Keener collects water at the Nada Spring in Powell County, Kentucky. Folks from neighboring communities, counties, and even states wait their turn to fill plastic bottles and coolers. (Photo courtesy of Billie Sue Graybeal.)

 


Currently, there are about 50 families living along the Nada Tunnel Road. The community originally served as home to the loggers. On most days, those planning to camp in the gorge can purchase firewood from folks along the road, and visitors can almost always count on a wave from someone living along the road.
About 14 miles from the road entrance and closer yet to the tunnel entrance, there is a wide spot at the right side of the road. There are usually cars parked on each side of the road. Folks from neighboring communities, counties, and even states wait their turn to fill plastic bottles, coolers, and the like. Some take a lot, some only a bottle, and some only a drink. Everyone is patient, and the chances are good of meeting someone from another state who is just passing through and heard about the Nada Spring. I have personally met folks from Ohio and Louisiana at the spring. They all want a taste of the 50-degree mountain water. It's always about 50 degrees, even on the hottest day. One lady told me that she brought her granddaughter to get a drink, just like she had done many years ago with her own parents. I have seen a few pensive youngsters hesitate before drinking from their Nascar cups filled with water from the mountain spring. People from all walks of life converge at the Nada Spring.
One older gentleman told me that he had been coming to get water from the spring as long as he could remember, about 75 years. He said that his grandmother had done so before him. He was from a neighboring county and had driven over with a few containers to fill. "Folks from the University came down a few years ago to test the water," he said. He didn't know the results.
The spring bubbles out of the mountain into a natural table about three feet wide. Some wise and helpful person has placed about 20 feet of two-inch pipe on the edge of the table and built a brace to hold the pipe in place just above a small creek running along the roadway. Last year the braces were replaced with treated lumber. Most days the cool mountain water rushes out of the pipe at the rate of about four gallons per minute. There is little, if any, sediment in the bottom of the containers used to catch the water. During the drought in the summer of 2007, the thick gush of water was reduced to only a trickle, and the output was about one gallon per minute. The locals all advise everyone not to drink the water when the water table is low unless it is boiled.
The mountain spring has been replenished with recent rains. It runs endlessly to provide water for the folks that need or want it. Not only does the water cool thirsts, it seems to renew spirits on each visit. Standing to wait a turn to fill a container, I can't help but think of why this water is here for us. Maybe it was here many years ago when dynamite blasted the mountain. Maybe it cooled a heated brow from a day of treacherous, back-breaking work so long ago on the tunnel nearby. I am even reminded of a slower way of life when perhaps a tired rider dismounted so that he and his horse could get a drink from this very spring.
When you visit the beautiful Red River Gorge, be sure to stop and smell the flowers, visit the arches, hike the trails, and be sure to stop by for a taste from the special mountain spring at Nada, Kentucky. This is God's water, at least that is what I wrote on the gallon container I brought home.

Billie Sue Graybeal, 2327 Grant Avenue, St. Albans, WV 25177, shares this article with our readers.

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