Did you know that Potholing is illegal in the Bluegrass state? It's outlawed for a great reason, but what exactly is potholing and why is it against the law? Believe it or not, this has nothing to do with the craters on Frederica Street.

📸 Bill Fultz Random sifter and shovel in a small rockshelter near Rich Hill Twin Arches.
📸 Bill Fultz
Random sifter and shovel in a small rockshelter near Rich Hill Twin Arches.

What is Potholing?

Potholing has a variety of definitions, but this time it is being used to classify some unfortunate occurrences that are being discovered in increasing and devastating amounts. Potholing is an umbrella term for illegal artifact digging and includes illegal arch activities and abuse, as well as vandalism of rock shelters and cliff bases. Potholing is being discovered within the deep thresholds of Kentucky's forests, natural arches, and remote locations within the state park confines. 

According to Bill Fultz, an admin for the Kentucky Waterfalls, Arches, and Landscapes facebook group,

A lesser known illegal arch activity but occurs in more locations than other illegal actions is potholing. This activity is just not limited to arches, it also includes rock shelters and the bases along cliffs. Potholing is the name given to illegal artifact digging. And, unlike our other mentioned arch abuses where easy access is a deciding factor to damage, with potholing access plays a lesser role. Potholing incidents have even been reported deep in the forest, off trail in remote areas. In most cases potholing involves using a shovel and a sifter and sifting through the sand looking for Native American artifacts or historical human activity, such as Civil War items. This creates a deep hole and a large pile of sand and dirt. Artifact hunting has been going on for many, many years in the mountains of Kentucky. For example, when I visited a cousin of mine’s home as a teenager in the mid 80’s who lived near the Daniel Boone National Forest, he had an impressive display of Native American artifacts in his home. He explained he had found them in the National Forest. In this modern era, something to consider is that many of these places have been already violated. Further sifting and digging is just disturbing or ruining the ecosystem.
📸 Bill Fultz Potholing along the cliff below Wilderness Road Arch.
📸 Bill Fultz
Potholing along the cliff below Wilderness Road Arch.

Why Would Someone Pothole?

Many cases of potholing include the use of shovels and sifters in search of Civil War and Native American artifacts. This activity negatively disturbs the environment by creating deep holes in the earth and by leaving significant piles of uprooted dirt, clay, and sand nearby. Artifact hunting has been going on for decades in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, where some locals have displayed retrieved artifacts from the nearby Daniel Boone National Forest. 

📸 Bill Fultz Dirt sifter and pothole at DW Arch.
📸 Bill Fultz
Dirt sifter and pothole at DW Arch.

How does the Forest Service Define 'Artifacts'?

You can find that information on the Forest Service's website is described as being, "any material remains of prehistoric or historic human life or activities, which are at least 50 years old, and includes the physical site, location, or context in which they are found. The collection of projectile points, pottery, or any other archeological resource or artifact is not allowed without a permit. Projectile points include ‘arrowheads’ and any prehistoric human-modified stone.”

Lost Arch
William H Fultz II Massive pothole at Lost Arch.

What to Do If You Come Across Potholing Sites

If you plan on vacationing anywhere within the state's National and State Park systems, and you happen to come across any suspicious items, damage, vandalism, ecological anomalies, or excavation sites where is what is suggested you do? Try to GPS your exact location and make a note of that coordinate, and report it to the proper authorities such as a park ranger or the local police/sheriff's office. You are advised to not approach the induvial that are carrying out the illegal tasks and instead walk away to avoid any potential confrontation. 

Potholing at DW Arch. 📸 Bill Fultz
Potholing at DW Arch.
📸 Bill Fultz

Arch Abuse

Arch abuse is a term that describes vandalistic acts that target Kentucky's natural archways. Kentucky, as you may know, is home to several naturally occurring arches, which are often targeted for abuse. The type of abuse can vary widely but is most common is when individuals spray paint the arched rock and limestone formations. Abuse can also include stone carving, illegal campfires and campsites located under the arch, or artifact digging aka, potholing. Apex Arch is one of the most frequently abused arches in the state. There are over 2,000 arches in the state and fall into a vast array of varieties. For more information on arches and arch, awareness month visit the website here. 


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