By Donald E. Clare, Jr., Rabbit Hash Historical Society
Originally published: March 27, 2008 in the Boone County Recorder
Fifty years ago this year, citizens of Boone County purchased 16.67 acres of land at the site of the famous Big Bone Lick salt springs and donated it to the Commonwealth of Kentucky for the purpose of establishing a state park to honor the scientific importance of this unique resource. The Commonwealth agreed to protect and maintain the site as a state park and build a museum to display artifacts and interpret the meaning of this rare place.
Today, Big Bone Lick is known world wide as the Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology. One French paleontologist argues that it is the birthplace of (all) vertebrate paleontology. The history and significance of the place is easy enough to research in a library or on the internet. But one part of the story is seldom told or appreciated. On October 24, 1953, at the Florence Town Hall, a meeting of interested citizens formed The Big Bone Lick Historical Association. This group wanted to establish an historical state park at Big Bone Lick. The temporary officers elected that night were Judge/Executive Carroll C. Cropper (chair), Bruce Ferguson (organization chairman), William Fitzgerald (secretary), Al Becker (photographer), and W. Robert Ellis (publicity). Their mission was to gather resolutions from all civic organizations and groups, churches, schools, businesses and citizens supporting the establishment of a state park at Big Bone, to be sent to Kentucky Governor Wetherby.
Prior to this, the Governor would not commit to a state park at Big Bone. Instead, he depended on the opinions of his Commissioner of Conservation, Henry Ward, who was pushing for a state park at Falmouth, incorporating a hydro-electric power plant on a Licking River Dam. So the new Big Bone Lick Historical Association would call upon citizens to lobby Frankfort and even raise money to purchase land for the park. Boone County already owned 2 acres at Big Bone, included the major spring and a portion of the creek bank where many bones had been recovered. It had been given to the county in 1876 by Stewart and Elizabeth Baker with acceptance of the tract provided for by an act of the General Assembly on March 9, 1876. According to the Department of State Parks, at least 10 acres were needed to establish a state park so the Association initiated an intense regional fund-raising campaign which included a tag sale in all area schools.
In 1954, Bruce Ferguson was elected president of the Association, and William Fitzgerald, Secretary. They tirelessly directed the Association toward its stated goal, year after year, through the muck and mire of political bureaucracy and changes in administration, sifting through double talk, glad-handing, broken promises and lip service. Finally, on December 12, 1958, Fitzgerald sent to Mr. Asa Rouse an authorized check for $5,000.00 made out to Alpha and India Hance as payment-in-full for 16.67 acres of land, which would become Big Bone Lick State Park. Today, the park has grown to over 500 acres.