Big Bone Lick State Park

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Big Bone Lick State Park
Big Bone Lick State Park is located in Kentucky
Big Bone Lick State Park
Location in Kentucky
Big Bone Lick State Park is located in the United States
Big Bone Lick State Park
Big Bone Lick State Park (the United States)
TypeKentucky state park
LocationBoone County, Kentucky
Nearest cityUnion, Kentucky
Coordinates38°53′13″N 84°44′52″W / 38.88694°N 84.74778°W / 38.88694; -84.74778Coordinates: 38°53′13″N 84°44′52″W / 38.88694°N 84.74778°W / 38.88694; -84.74778
Area525 acres (212 ha) [1]
Elevation469 feet (143 m) [2]
Created1960 [1][3]
Operated byKentucky Department of Parks
NRHP reference No.72001585 [4]
Added to NRHPJune 13, 1972

Big Bone Lick State Park is located at Big Bone in Boone County, Kentucky. The name of the park comes from the Pleistocene megafauna fossils found there.[5] Mammoths are believed to have been drawn to this location by a salt lick deposited around the sulfur springs.[6] Other animals including forms of bison, caribou, deer, elk, horse, mastodon, moose, musk ox, peccary, ground sloths, wolves, black bears, stag moose, saber-toothed cats, and possibly tapir[7] also grazed the vegetation and salty earth around the springs that the animals relied on for their diet.[8][9] One mastodon bone was unearthed here with a noticeable cut mark on it, implying that the Clovis people lived in the area thousands of years ago.[10] The area near the springs was very soft and marshy causing many animals to become stuck with no way to escape.[1] It bills itself as "the birthplace of American paleontology", a term which dates from the 1807 expedition by William Clark undertaken at the direction of President Thomas Jefferson.[11] In Nicholas Cresswell's journal, dated 1774 to 1777, he records a visit in 1775 to what was then called "Elephant Bone Lick." In this account, Cresswell describes finding several bones of "prodigious size", as well as tusk fragments, and teeth—one weighing approximately 10 pounds. While he assumed the bones were from ancient elephants, the local native traditions claimed the bones to be those of white buffaloes that had been poisoned by the salty water.[12]

In 2002, the National Park Service designated Big Bone Lick State Park as an official Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Site.[13] The park was also listed in 1972 on the National Register of Historic Places and was further listed as a National Natural Landmark in February 2009.

Activities and amenities[edit]

The visitors center (opened 2004) features indoor and outdoor exhibits of fossils, American art, and a 1,000 pound mastodon skull as well as a gift shop.

The park features several nature trails, including a Discovery Trail that includes a boardwalk around a marsh bog diorama with recreations of a woolly mammoth, a mastodon, a ground sloth, bison, and scavengers feeding on carcasses and skeletal remains. The Discovery Trail winds through several habitats, including grassland, wetland and savanna, and is accessible to the physically challenged.

A small bison herd is also maintained on-site.

The park has picnicking facilities and a 62-site campground.


  1. ^ a b c "History". Big Bone Lick State Historic Site. Kentucky Department of Parks. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  2. ^ "Big Bone Lick State Park". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  3. ^ Kleber, John E., ed. (1992). "Big Bone Lick". The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Associate editors: Thomas D. Clark, Lowell H. Harrison, and James C. Klotter. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1772-0.
  4. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  5. ^ "Big Bone Lick State Park - Ice Age Mammoths of Kentucky - The Birthplace of American Paleontology". Retrieved 2022-01-08.
  6. ^ Hunter, David (October 1, 2003). Shifra Stein's Day Trips from Cincinnati: Getaways Less Than Two Hours Away. Globe Pequot. p. 138. ISBN 9780762727490. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
  7. ^ "Quaternary Period". Kentucky Geological Survey. University of Kentucky. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  8. ^ "Mammalia, Fossils, Kentucky Geological Survey, University of Kentucky". Retrieved 2022-01-08.
  9. ^ "Big Bone Lick and Benjamin Frankin and Thomas Jefferson". Retrieved 2022-01-08.
  10. ^ Tankersley, Kenneth B.; Waters, Michael R.; Stafford, Thomas W. (July 2009). "Clovis and the American Mastodon at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky". American Antiquity. 74 (3): 558–567. doi:10.1017/s0002731600048757. ISSN 0002-7316.
  11. ^ Vaccariello, Linda (November 2009). "And On the Sixth Day, God Created Paleontologists". Cincinnati Magazine. p. 86. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
  12. ^ MacVeagh, L. (1924) The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell 1774–1777, New York, p. 88.
  13. ^ David Wecker (2002-10-19). "Big Bone Lick: Books, awards and festival give pride of Boone County its due". The Kentucky Post. E. W. Scripps Company. Archived from the original on 2006-05-11. Retrieved 2007-02-05.

External links[edit]