By Charles W. Kopp
The idea for a recreational lake in Northeastern Kentucky was born in 1948 in the mind of George Collins, owner of Rail City Hardware in Russell, KY. Collins discussed it with his friend and fishing partner, Dr. Virgil Skaggs, and they brought it before the Greenup Fish & Game Club at their next meeting. The club embraced the idea and it was decided to start making plans for the lake and begin soliciting donations and pledges. Word of the project spread rapidly and many people throughout Greenup and Boyd Counties were anxious to help. As plans progressed, the attendance at the Club’s weekly meetings swelled to fifty or more. Throughout the two counties enthusiasm grew quickly.
A site committee formed of Greenup and Boyd County residents reported that the two best potential locations were in Greenup County in the areas of Sand Suck and Clay Lick. Options were taken at both locations with the landowners at a rate of one dollar per farm or property. The Clay Lick area was judged superior and the two options were taken on the properties there. The confluence of Clay Lick Creek and its tributaries, Buffalo Fork and Pruitt Fork, form the present three-prong shape of the lake.
A contest was held to name the new organization. Bill Biggs of Greenup suggested “Greenbo Recreation Association”, reflecting the efforts of the citizens of both Greenup and Boyd Counties. This name was adopted and the organization was incorporated on January 29, 1953.
A concerted drive was made to raise the money needed to purchase the land, construct the dam, build good roads through the rugged hills and set up all the other facilities needed to make a fine park. Greenbo representatives made speeches before Tri-State club meetings and on the local radio and television stations. Newspaper articles and editorials came out in support of the project as well. Letters were sent to all those who had signed pledge cards. Personal contact with local businesses and industries resulted in Armco Steele and Ashland Oil agreeing to match the amounts donated by their respective employees. A Porch Light Night was advertised, where anyone wishing to donate would turn on their porch light to be visited by collection volunteers. Porch Light Night was a huge success and brought in a sizable amount of money. The fish hatchery on KY Route 5 was donated to the organization and then sold, with proceeds of $50,000.
In all, $210,500 was raised and the land was purchased from the 33 landowners with the deeds recorded at the Greenup County Courthouse on February 16, 1954. A contract was let for the construction of the dam. The vacant homes and buildings were razed and brush and trees were cut in the planned lake basin.
It had originally been contemplated that the Greenbo Recreation Association would charge admission to the park, which would have, besides the lake, picnic areas, concessions, a beach, a marina with rental boats, and a campground. In addition, lots would be leased to build summer cottages to a strict conformance of good design but after many meetings the organization came to realize that managing the 3330 acre park and the 300 acre lake was simply beyond their expertise. It was decided to approach the Commonwealth of Kentucky and offer the deed, and a delegation was sent to the State Capitol in Frankfort.
Initially, Governor Lawrence Wetherby was not enthusiastic, noting that there was already a state park not far from there (Carter Caves State Resort Park); however, he did agree to inspect the park. He flew into Ashland Airport where he was met by Greenbo representatives and taken to the lake. The lake was fully formed and he was given a tour on a pontoon boat. The Governor was impressed by the natural beauty of the area and with his trademark big smile agreed to accept the deed. Soon after, the state stepped in and began making improvements mentioned earlier, with the exception of the leased lots for cottages. On October 20, 1969, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for a lodge for overnight guests, attended by Governor Louie B. Nunn, State Park Commissioner James W. Host, Director of State Park Construction and Maintenance Robert Penrod and Greenbo Association representatives Ross Simpson, Norris Fletcher and Charles W. Kopp. This fine building overlooking the lake was named for Jesse Stuart, the famous Kentucky writer whose birthplace is within a few miles of the park.
Today, Greenbo Lake State Resort Park draws thousands from the Tri-State area and beyond. They enjoy the rugged beauty of the Eastern Kentucky hills and the lake is, literally, a fisherman’s dream come true, the dream of George Collins.
Among the founders of the Greenbo Recreational Association were the following: George Collins, Dr. Virgil Skaggs, Jim Wilson, L.G. Mullins, James Gibson, Fred A. Stewart, Dr. Harry J. Stone, Dr. Frank W. Gwinn, Norris Fletcher, Bronston Steele, E.R. Hilton, Ross Simpson, Arthur Sparks, Oscar Sammons, Claude Fannin, Philip Justice and Charles W. Kopp.