If the state of Kentucky is looking for an at-large ambassador for its small towns, they’d be hard pressed to find someone better suited for the job than Cory Ramsey.
The 33 year old WKU graduate works as a welder during the afternoons, but is a Kentucky traveler in the morning. In the past five years, Ramsey has been to every county in the commonwealth at least twice. During his travels, Ramsey mostly sticks to the backroads in order to see parts of the state that are off the beaten path.
His passion for exploring the commonwealth’s nooks and crannies led Ramsey to create Map Dot Kentucky, a website and social media venture dedicated to sharing pictures and stories related to Ramsey’s exploits throughout the state. Unlike some tourism websites that focus on large metro areas like Louisville and Lexington, Map Dot Kentucky is a place where small towns are celebrated.
Ramsey told WKU Public Radio that his upbringing in the small western Kentucky town of Hickman helped shape the way he views the commonwealth.
“We didn’t have a chain restaurant in Hickman. So coming out of that and coming to Bowling Green, the first big city I ever lived in—and people around Bowling Green would say, ‘Big city? It’s not a big city at all.’”
But given Ramsey’s roots, Bowling Green seemed like a huge metropolis.
“My first experience driving through stoplights happened in Bowling Green. We only had one blinking light in Hickman, and I lived out in the rural part of Fulton County, and so we didn’t see any stoplights.”
Temporary Loss of Job Leads to Travel
Following his graduation from WKU in 2004, Ramsey began working as a welder in Bowling Green. In 2009, he was temporarily laid off from his job because of the recession that was battering the state and national economy.
He stayed at home, watched lots of television, and went to Bowling Green Hot Rods baseball games. But that only went so far, and Ramsey decided to explore parts of the region through hiking.
“So I got in the car and the first place I went to was Lost River Cave. After a couple of hikes, I went to Mammoth Cave, then I went to Lake Malone, then to Pennyrile. And I just kept going to all of these locations.”
Ramsey was called back to his job and began working seven days a week. But he had fallen in love with traveling the Bluegrass State and didn’t want to quit. So he started getting up early and taking trips around the region before reporting to work at 2 pm.
“So I plopped out a map and started looking at all of the dots on the map, and I began to drive to every single location with the idea that I’m going to pull up, take a picture of what’s going on, I’m going to capture this moment just for the sake of putting it on the iPhone, and that was it.”
Putting Kentucky's "Map Dots" Front and Center
But Ramsey had accumulated so many great photos and stories during his visits to Kentucky’s small towns that he decided he wanted to share them with a wider audience. That’s when Map Dot Kentucky was born.
“Every day there are pictures posted from my travels. It might be something that I did that day, it might be something that I did several months ago.”
“It has turned into a road trip presentation. We get out on the road and we go,” Ramsey says.
Ramsey now has a three-person crew that accompanies him. All three, like Ramsey, are from small Kentucky towns: Telia Butler in Alvaton in Warren County; Travis Butler of Irvington in Breckinridge County; and Kellie Short from Austin in Barren County.
“We’re this rag-tag pack that gets in a car based in Bowling Green, hits a backroad and goes to a country store and features this outlet (on the website). So it went from just traveling and taking pictures, to traveling and featuring places.”
A Commonwealth Filled with Uncommon Town Names
Ramsey says he has grown to love the downtown squares and circles that populate many of the state’s small towns. He’s also come to admire towns with unusual names.
“There’s a Possum Trot, Bugtussle, Barefoot, Marrow Bone, and Lickskillet. I think at one time there were four Lickskillets in Kentucky before they found the one that would stick. The one in Logan County ended up taking it.”
Ramsey hopes that Map Dot Kentucky will eventually become a tourism operation. If that happens, what is now Ramsey’s passion would become his full-time job. He says one of his goals is to reach Kentuckians who may not have seen much of the rest of the commonwealth.
“If I’ve over in some part of eastern Kentucky, I can talk about a similar thing that’s just like your country store in western Kentucky. And the folks from either part of the state don’t know the other part. It’s a mystery to them. They have their thoughts about each end of the state. You know—“it’s rural, it’s backwards.’”
“We bring it together and say, ‘actually, no it’s not.’”