By Jeremy Patton
The Spillway Rock is located near Laurel River Dam in Whitley County, Kentucky.
Look for a faint path beginning near the artificial beach at the Laurel Lake spillway. It is located near the south end of the KY-1193 bridge. The path meanders a short distance through the forest above the lake. If you get lost, just follow the trash (no pun intended). Watch for a small clearing in a cove with a flat rock protruding over the water.
The 0.25-mile hike is easy. If you jump in, it is a short swim to the shore where a rough path leads back up to the rock.
The Spillway Rock has been a notorious party spot since I was a teenager. Drinking and drug-use were rampant, but I was never a big partier; I frequented the area for the cliff-jumping. The rock is perched about 20 feet above the lake, although its height varies depending on the lake level.
When Delania and I visited on 4/3/16, we were reminded of the spot’s reputation. A trio of teenage girls passed by, no doubt irritated by our presence, but found a vacant perch not far away. The forest provided cover as they puffed on their joints, but it did not mask the marijuana smell — younglings always over-estimate their skills of deception.
I was tempted to take my first Spillway Rock plunge in more than 20 years, but Delania would have vetoed that plan, and the water was too cold anyway.
It is still probably a safe place to jump, as long as you do not leap to the left where a tree stump lurks below the surface. You can smash your foot on that stump; I know from experience (I knew that the stump was there, but I must have suffered temporary memory loss).
As I write in late June, the water is warm and inviting. I am tempted to gather my friends and go try some flips for old time’s sake. Who am I kidding? My friends are now old and unadventurous.
If I jump again, I will abide by a self-imposed rule:
Never jump from a cliff unless you see someone jump first.
The following are two memories of my Spillway Rock adventures:
The Mushroom Cloud
Mr. Cornett was considered one of the coolest dads in Laurel County. He agree to take the plunge, much to everyone’s excitement. We anticipated an enormous splash and tsunami, and would not be disappointed.
Mr. Cornett sported one of the largest bellies that I had ever seen; he probably weighed 350 pounds or more. He was not known for his cardiovascular conditioning, so my high school friend Duke (Mr. Cornett’s son), his two brothers and I awaited below with life jackets to haul him back to the shore. I also held a disposable camera at the ready.
The school teacher peered down over the ledge and smiled as we shouted words of discouragement. We saw through his veil of confidence, which made the spectacle even more entertaining.
After much banter, he finally stepped off the rock, his flanks flapping as he plummeted in slow motion. The great “kerplunk” that followed launched a soaring splash that resembled a mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. We bobbed up and down in the perturbed water and giggled while swimming against the waves to reach him.
I snapped several pictures during his descent and somehow managed to keep the camera dry. Regardless, the pictures turned out blank…one of the regrets of my life.
Out of breath, but safe, Mr. Cornett slithered onto the muddy bank as we proudly lauded him. We tried to talk him into another plunge, but he had his fill of adventure for the day.
Pee-Pee On the Rock
My friend Duke was a bit of a wildman. As several friends waited for their turn to jump, Duke stood behind the next in line. The teen, whose name I no longer recall, peeked over the edge and hesitated.
Duke pulled down his trunks and urinated on the teen’s leg, who yelped in disgust and dived into the cleansing water. The cackling uproar lasted well into the evening.
Duke stepped aside when I finally approached the rock. He had pulled up his trunks, but beamed a mischievous grin. He heeded my cruel glare and wisely kept his wee-wee in his pants.
Ah, the nostalgia.
A Note For Those Without Common Sense (some might consider me a member of this group):
Cliff-jumping is dangerous. If you jump at the Spillway Rock, do so with friends. It is wise to leave a life-jacket floating in the water below. The safest way to jump is feet-first. Although the Spillway Rock is not particularly high, injuries sometimes occur. Do not jump when the lake level is low, because many rocks and boulders reside beneath the surface. Watch out for snakes in the water and while climbing the path back up to the rock. Remember the most important rule of cliff-jumping: Never jump from a cliff unless you see someone jump first.
Added 6/23/16 – Updated 6/17/17