By Kyle Wooton
On the eve of Explore Kentucky approaching 10,000 followers on Instagram, I wanted to revisit this past summer when our founder, Gerry Seavo James, visited my hometown of Hazard. My brother and I planned to give Gerry the ultimate tour of our stomping grounds because I had always dreamed of exposing my culture to the world. I was googling Kentucky and the web page for Explore Kentucky was one of the returned searches. I noticed that Gerry was asking people to get involved with Explore Kentucky by hash tagging their slice of Kentucky on Instagram. I have been a supporter and contributor for Explore Kentucky for the past year and I am proud to finally be part of something that is working for Kentucky.
Note: I didn’t really know Gerry. I had never met this guy in person before, only through following his adventures via Instagram. I invited him down to hang out with us when he was in the area. We are a couple explorers that were completely connected by Social Media. Explore Kentucky has connected Kentuckians all over the state, forming lifelong friendships that otherwise would not have existed.
On that mild summer day, we traversed through the Appalachian mountains of Perry County showing Mr. James what makes Hazard such a special place. We ventured to the top of Hazard to admire my hometown’s beauty. From the mountain top you can see our beautiful sun kissed land and feel the tranquility of mountain life. Some people say we are stuck in slow motion, but we are actually just soaking in every experience. We take life day by day.
Afterwards, we had to show Gerry a piece of Perry County that is not only locally famous, but has received much national recognition. The Mother Goose house, which was once featured on Oprah, is one of many amazing things Hazard has to offer.
Peyton drove us all over the county that day with the top down on his jeep. His Super Swamper tires sang a beautiful melody as we cruised around on the black top and dug deep into the dirt. The dusty coal haul roads make for a rally car experience. We visited reclaimed mine land in Big Creek and paraded down Main Street. We switched vehicles to blaze the less traveled trails. Our Polaris Ranger took us deep into Kudzu covered coal country, jumping stumps along the way. An overheated fuel pump was an unexpected break. We sat and listened to the sounds around us while it cooled.
After wrapping up our adventure, I did some research on social media. I learned every day over 40,000 million photos are posted to Instagram at a rate of 8,500 likes and 1,000 comments per second! The #ExploreKentucky tag has been tagged on over 45,000 photos and the tagged photos were drawing likes and comments from people from all across the world. I saw people saying “ I didn't know Kentucky was so pretty! ” or “lets move there! ”
As an Eastern Kentuckian, sometimes we are helpless to our plight. But by using the Explore Kentucky movement, we can contribute by attracting people to learn about our land and people. Its so simple to take part.
Download Instagram to your mobile devices & first follow @ExploreKentucky. The more people that follow us and use our hashtag, the more exposure Kentucky is going to get. Post your photos, with a description and the location on Instagram. Use #ExploreKentucky in the description, hit post, and you have automatically brought your photograph to the attention of thousands! It is that simple and makes a huge impact. When you go out on an adventure this weekend document the trip through photos. Capture your community, restaurants, trails, lakes, ponds, farms, or an old dirt roads. It is a small thing that will help lead new people to our state!
For Example: If you head down to Circle T in Hazard this evening and you capture a great nightscape of the store front. In the photo’s description you tell us all about the food and the atmosphere. Then you use our hashtag and hit post. Its quite possible that you have attracted 20 new people to Hazard. Where they will spend their money. See how easy that was? You can get as creative as you want! This is also the perfect way to hone your skills. You might be an amazing photographer and just not know it or never even considered it before!
Coal Miners, you are Eastern Kentucky. Your blood, sweat, and tears have molded a heritage like none other. Paul Harvey once said, “God made a coal miner.” His words spoke of a brave, strong, and humble men. Explore Kentucky is your chance to show the world an inside story to your lives! Photograph the mouth of the mine as you are riding down with your band of brothers. Capture those amazing ridge top sunsets from your rock truck. Or share a portrait of your coal dust covered side kick who is working vigorously to get the job done and go home to his family.
We are all in this together. “United we stand, divided we fall, " is not just a statement written on our state flag. It is a code of honor. The only thing that stands between making our state a mecca of tourism is educating outsiders. We can do that with photographs and stories. Whether you are from Hazard, Pikeville, Harlan, Hyden, Pineville, Cumberland, London, and all of the little towns in between, Kentucky is in your blood. Let the adventure begin.