Tag Archives: mike wolfe

Descending into cave entrance in downtown Horse Cave, Kentucky

Have you ever heard about a town being built on top of a cave? We’re not talking about your average cave — more like the largest natural opening of a cave in existence. A cave that’s so unique that inside it is the world’s longest underground suspension bridge above subterranean rivers 100 feet below ground.

This sounds like a set constructed for a fictitious spelunking film, but it’s not. This place is real, and it’s called Horse Cave, Kentucky.


The town was founded around 1850 by Major Albert Anderson on land surrounding the scenic entrance to Hidden River Cave. The reason why the town grew on top of the cave was due to the water access inside making it a livable location for settlers.

In 1888, Dr. George A. Thomas purchased a home by the cave entrance, and eventually purchased the cave for just $375.00. He saw the cave as a source of both water and an electrical power source.

Historic hydroelectric system and water pumps at Hidden River Cave. Photo courtesy of William T. Austin Family

A hydroelectric system was created to gather water from the cave using a wooden tub which was hauled up to a springhouse by a bucket trolley. This created an enthusiastic buzz in the surrounding communities that Horse Cave began offering tours from 1912 through 1943.

However, groundwater pollution from sewage led to the cave’s closing in 1943. For 50 years Hidden River Cave had been all but forgotten.

In 1992, cleanup efforts Hidden River Cave’s large sinkhole entrance began. With that, so did exploring and mapping the cave. (Still today the complexity of the passageways is still a mystery).

A tour group visits Hidden River Cave circa 1930. Photo courtesy of William T. Austin Family

Today, twenty-one types of cave species have been discovered including clear crayfish and eyeless fish! Hidden River Cave had transformed from one of the most polluted to one of the most biologically diverse cave ecosystems in the world. 

In fact, in 1867, “Father of the National Parks”, John Muir, talked about traveling to Horse Cave in his book, ‘A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf’ calling the area, “a noble gateway to the birthplace of springs and fountains and the dark treasures of the mineral kingdom.”

Since seeing is believing, we’re are going to help you plan your own weekend escape to one of Mike Wolfe’s favorite towns to visit, Horse Cave. Read on to discover his top picks for where to stay, eat, pick, and explore in town.



Let’s travel back in time to the wild frontier with a unique stay at the Horse Cave KOA Holiday in one of their Conestoga Wagons. You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but the interior of these wagons features modern amenities like electricity and heat! You also have the option to rent one of the Treehouses at KOA too! Enjoy views of roaming hills and pastures from 20 feet off the ground. The KOA also offers campsites and cabins rentals. A little further down the road, you’ll have the opportunity to check in to the Historic Wigwam Village. Built in 1937, these unique structures feature original hickory-and-cane furnishings and sleep 2 to 4 guests. 

 Now that you are unpacked, let’s head downtown.

Conestoga Wagons available at Horse Cave KOA Holiday photo credit to Lee Huffman


Did you know thanks to the construction of a hydroelectric system in the 1890s, Horse Cave became the first city outside of Louisville to have electricity? They were also the first city in the state to have incandescent street lights! Much of that charm remains in Horse Cave’s Historic District which has more than 50 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

What’s also unique about downtown streets is how narrow they are — at just 30 feet wide! When Major Albert Anderson founded Horse Cave, he laid out the streets with linen tape to accommodate the horse and carriages. Those narrow streets are still part of the town’s charm today — so watch your mirrors!

Cyclist ride down Main Street featuring “Horse Cave Stories Cell Phone Tour” sign

While you’re walking down Main Street, you can trace the pathway of the cave under your feet! Along the pathway of the cave is the award-winning Horse Cave Stories Cell Phone Tour that tells the story of a town that grew on top of a cave.

In Horse Cave’s Downtown Shopping District, you’ll find a dozen small businesses beneath colorful awnings. If antique and vintage home decor is your thing, check out A Walk Through Time which is considered the smallest “big store” in town covering 2,000 square feet. Inside you can find just about anything, and if you can’t find what you’re searching for, shop owner, Emry Riley, knows how to track it down. 

“Every time I stop by Emry’s shop I end up spending hours talking to local pickers who gather around on the couch and table up front sharing stories and catching up,” says Mike.

Pickers and locals talk antiques inside A Walk Through Time

Don’t forget to pick around Emry’s wife’s shop, GeeGa’s, offering a more feminine collection of vintage home decor pieces. Caveland Antique Mall is another great shop full of treasures from around the region.

Local art is a great souvenir when traveling. Stop into Sims Studios & Art Shop, this studio has been part of the community for almost a decade! They offer custom framing services, art restoration, art classes, portraits, and more.

“Jesse’s Frame shop is more like an artist retreat,” says Mike. “It has a lot of really amazing local art and a great vinyl selection…ask him to spin you a few.”

LEFT: Emry Riley owner of A Walk Through Time RIGHT: Jesse Sims owner of Sims Studios & Art Shop

If boutique shopping is your game, don’t miss the collections at The Hanger Boutique and All Things By Mel.

If you feel like taking a 5-minute drive out of the downtown area, you’ll find the Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo. This Australian-themed animal park offers interactive experiences like feeding kangaroos and Rainbow Lorikeet birds! 

Maint Street mural painted by Jesse Sims

All that shopping and animal feeding can work up an appetite! Let’s check out some places serving delicious local dishes.


Dennison’s Roadside Market has been a Horse Cave favorite since 1992. This family-owned business offers seasonal and local produce like fruits and vegetables and even homemade jams and jellies. Inside you’ll also find Chaney’s Ice Cream, Penn’s, Country Hams, and more. They even offer berry picking when in season. We’d recommend filling up on food here to take back to your campsite and cook up some delicious meals after a day of exploring the caves.

Dennison’s Roadside Market 

C&J’s Diner is your ticket to classic southern homemade dishes like biscuits and gravy, meatloaf, and burgers. Don’t skip on the pizza and pasta dishes at The Feeder Restaurant or the baked goods at Farmwald’s Restaurant and Bakery for some homemade Amish treats and fish fry Fridays! 

Now that you’ve eaten and have reclaimed some energy to explore, let’s get you ready for the caves!


The centerpiece of the town is Hidden River Cave. It’s the largest privately operated cave in Kentucky. You can take a 50-minute guided tourzip line across the cave entrance, or even rappel down the limestone face of the cave! Sunset Dome, named for its unusual lighting effects, contains the greatest unobstructed floor space found underground to date. Adjacent to the cave is the American Cave Museum, where you can learn more about the history of how the cave was discovered.

Guided tour inside Hidden River Cave photo credit by Renegade Winters

We’ll let you in on a secret: there are eight major caves within 45 miles of Hidden River Cave including Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest in the world. Seize the opportunity to get a close-up view of stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations created by water and time.

Hidden gems towns like Horse Cave, Kentucky are a great reminder to always remain curious no matter where you are, because you never know what is waiting to be discovered above or below the surface. Don’t forget your flashlight! 

Sunset Dome photo by Matt McClintock 

For more on booking your trip visit Kentucky Getaway

Photos provided by Kentucky Getaway



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Sep 30, 2021
Nashville’s Big Back Yard is celebrating the accomplishments of its first year! Launched entirely via Zoom meetings during the pandemic, with the assistance of spokesman Mike Wolfe, History’s American Picker, and the community leaders of 12 small towns, this grassroots movement was created to increase travel and tourism to the region while capturing the interest of people in pursuit of a simpler way of life.
To date, Nashville’s Big Back Yard achieved more than 270 million media impressions, engaged more than 50,000 social media followers, and received hundreds of inquiries from people drawn to rural living, remote work, and an affordable lifestyle. 
Read the full press release below for more information.


LEIPER’S FORK, Tenn., Sept. 30, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Launched entirely via Zoom meetings, and with the assistance of spokesman Mike Wolfe, History’s American Picker, Nashville’s Big Back Yard is celebrating the accomplishments of year one. A regional movement of 12 rural Middle Tennessee communities and The Shoals of North Alabama, the organization is taking stock of the year’s success.

With an aggressive PR and social media effort and a grassroots approach to marketing, Nashville’s Big Back Yard achieved more than 270 million media impressions, engaged more than 50,000 social media followers, and received hundreds of inquiries from people drawn to rural living, remote work, and an affordable lifestyle.

NBBY’s comprehensive website achieved in-excess of 100,000 UVM’s and pageviews combined. The site showcases all the towns in the Big Back Yard with robust content – stunning photography, professional videos, real estate information, tourism and relocation stats, and detailed contact information.

Nashville’s Big Back Yard is the result of lengthy conversations during COVID-19 spearheaded by Leiper’s Fork philanthropist Aubrey Preston and led by community leaders in a region long known as a destination for musicians, artists, and other creative talent. Debbie Landers serves as the organization’s executive director.

NBBY was created to increase travel and tourism to the region and capture the interest of people in pursuit of a simpler way of life. Nashville’s Big Back Yard includes the Middle Tennessee towns of CentervilleCliftonCollinwoodHampshireHohenwald, Leiper’s Fork, LindenLorettoMount PleasantSanta FeSummertown, and Waynesboro in Middle Tennessee and The Shoals region of Northwest Alabama – FlorenceSheffieldMuscle Shoals.

Mike Wolfe’s participation as a spokesman is inspired by his passion for the backroads of America and a love for Tennessee, where he resides in the Big Back Yard. Wolfe’s involvement, including a video endorsement, helped catapult the initial launch of NBBY to more than 90 million PR impressions and multiple thousands of social media engagements.

“Initially, NBBY was launched as a result of COVID-19’s devastating blow to our nation’s public health and economy, which led people and communities to think about who we are and what we do,” said Preston, who has spent more than 25 years working on rural preservation efforts including the popular Americana Music Triangle. “The success of our first year confirms what we already knew. The land is calling people back, and Nashville’s Big Back Yard has an abundance of land, water and world-class music. It’s a great place to visit and an even better place to live. We’re inviting people to come and play in our big back yard.”

Looking ahead, the Big Back Yard partners anticipate their first in-person meeting in November to celebrate the one-year anniversary and the success of Nashville’s Big Back Yard, a movement created entirely via Zoom.


Nashville’s Big Back Yard is made up of 12 small towns under a population of 5,000 between Nashville, TN, and Muscle Shoals, AL. This watershed region is anchored by the historic Natchez Trace Parkway and has endless outdoor adventures and activities, historic landmarks, quaint small towns, and unique places to stay.

Here are just a few of the many experiences waiting for you. 


Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia, Alabama Photo courtesy of Rattlesnake Saloon

Dinner In A Cave — Tuscumbia, Alabama

Dinner in a cave, live music, southern hospitality, and a ride in the back of a pick-up truck await you at the Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia, Alabama. The saloon, which is located in a cave, has been featured in national and international travel publications.

The venue is open Thursday through Sunday for lunch and dinner and live music rings through the cave on weekend nights. The natural cave setting offers extraordinary acoustics.

The crowd-pleasing menu features cheeseburgers, homemade chips, onion rings, deli sandwiches, and many other items. Adult beverages are available after 5 p.m. The visitor parking area is located above the cave, so visitors are transported to the venue via the “pick-up truck taxi.”

LEFT: Rick Hall RIGHT: Arthur Alexander

Visit The Hit Recording Capital of The World — Muscle Shoals, Alabama

In 1961 a young recording pioneer named Rick Hall connected with a talented young singer-songwriter named Arthur Alexander. They recorded the single “You Better Move On” together in an abandoned tobacco warehouse in Muscle Shoals, and it became an international hit! Rick Hall went on to build FAME Studios on Avalon Avenue and this song marks the global “big bang” of the Muscle Shoals sound.

Today we salute Arthur Alexander, Rick Hall, and our sister community Muscle Shoals, Alabama “The Hit Recording Capital of the World”. Come Visit the Shoals and FAME Recording Studios & Publishing Co.

3 Mile Lake in Hohenwald, TN

Set Up Camp On The Natchez Trace — Hohenwald, Tennessee

Thousand Trails Natchez Trace RV Campground is a beautifully wooded RV Campground in Hohenwald, TN right off the Natchez Trace Parkway. This picturesque campground features 830 acres of stunning views, hiking, boating, canoeing, fishing, and more. Amenities on the property include a large swimming pool, mini-golf, a restaurant, and a 3-mile lake where anglers can fish for bass, shellcracker, and crappie.

Choose from over a dozen cabins to stay in, bring your own RV, or pitch a tent if you love to sleep right under the stars.

Take a pontoon tour of the lake, play volleyball, basketball, tennis, or billiards. With a library, wifi and laundry all your needs are met onsite. Pets are welcome so bring your furry best friends they will love the dog park!



Brothers, Pat and Mike Green with original Mount Pleasant Records sign Photo courtesy of Visit Mount Pleasant, TN

Explore Local Historic Roots — Mount Pleasant, Tennessee 

Brothers, Pat and Mike Green fondly remember growing up in Mount Pleasant, TN. In the 1960’s they left their quaint town for college and did not return. Now, both brothers are retired and live in neighboring Columbia, TN. This past March, they decided it was time to return to their roots and invest in the revitalization of their beloved hometown.

They purchased a much neglected historic building in the middle of Mount Pleasant’s Historic Downtown District. While cleaning out the building, they were surprised to find an old metal sign that said “The Mt. Pleasant Record”. Even though the building was listed on the historic register as c.1940, they decided that more research needed to be done.

They discovered deeds that date back to 1883 and a fire map from the Maury County Archives listed the property in 1899 as a general store, in 1905 & 1910 as a saloon, and in 1919 as a printing business. This building was the home of the Mt. Pleasant Record, which for over 50 years, was the town’s weekly newspaper.

Mike and Pat, both well-known area businessmen, plan to open an art gallery in early October at this location, and in honor of its past, name it The Mt. Pleasant Record Art Gallery.



Follow along to see more of Nashville’s Big Back Yard on Instagram and Facebook


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Chad Pregrake, the founder of the Mississippi River clean-up organization, Living Lands & Waters, is heading for dry land to show you his plan on how to reintroduce Bison back to LeClaire, IA by repurposing an interstate bridge. 

Once upon a time, both Illinois and Iowa were prairie landscapes where hundreds of thousands of American bison roamed free. Bison are a keystone species that are essential to maintaining the integrity of the food chain and plant life in the prairie biome. 

However, due to overhunting and development, bison populations dropped to near zero at the end of the 1900s. It wasn’t long before the native prairie landscape was replaced by agricultural and industrial landscapes.

In an effort to reintroduce and grow the American bison population in the Midwest, one man is making it his personal mission to heard these animals home to their native grounds by repurposing a big piece of existing infrastructure — an interstate bridge. 

As the Illinois Department of Transportation begins a preliminary study to replace the Interstate-80 Bridge, Living Lands & Waters’ Founder, Chad Pregracke, has one question: What will happen to the existing Interstate 80 bridge when a new replacement is built? 

Pregracke wants YOUR help to transform it into the world’s longest man-made wildlife crossing for pedestrians…and bison.


Completed in 1966, the bridge connects Interstate 80 across the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities near LeClaire, Iowa, and Rapids City, Illinois. Now named the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge, it carries an estimated 42,000 vehicles daily.  In 2020, the Illinois Department of Transportation began a preliminary study to replace the bridge. 

For over a decade, Chad Pregracke has waited for the opportunity to repurpose the I-80 bridge for locals and visitors to experience the beauty of the Mississippi River and the Quad Cities.

“I grew up in East Moline, Illinois, spending summers as a commercial mussel diver on the Mississippi River with my brother,” says Chad. “I’ve spent most of my life in the river with my Living Lands & Waters crew pulling trash out of the water. When I dreamed up this idea for repurposing the I-80 bridge, I realized I could help rewrite the river’s reputation in a new way. Repurposing infrastructure is a trend in the United States. What is deemed ‘old’ becomes ‘new,’ and in turn transforms and enhances the quality of life in these communities.”

And Mike Wolfe agrees! As a resident of LeClaire, he celebrates the long-term benefit of a project like has for his riverfront community. Mike has joined Chad’s team as vice president of the Bison Bridge Foundation.

“This is another project from the incredible mind of Chad Pregracke,” says Mike. “As long as I’ve known him, he has always had a passion for preserving the Mississippi River. It has been in his blood from an early age. Chad’s mission on and off the river has always been to have a conversation about its history and significance. His passion for the environment and his community is contagious. This project has the potential to bring the Quad Cities to the next level.”


The idea is to have the bison and community safely separated from one another. One side of the bridge will be repurposed for foot and bicycle traffic, and the other will be repurposed for wildlife crossings. The two sides of the bridge will be separated by a barrier that will allow for safe wildlife viewing for humans and safe passage for bison.  

The foundation also plans to steward a small herd of American Bison to roam and live on the bridge as well as the 100 acres of grazing land located on the Illinois and Iowa sides of the river. 


“The Bison Bridge is like no other currently in the United States, says Chad. “It’s a land bridge, consisting of wildlife and recreational crossing connecting the Illinois and Iowa riverfronts on the Mississippi River. We have the right team and with the right support, we hope to turn it into a National Park site for visitors to enjoy for generations.”

With over 42,000 cars a day traveling over the Mississippi on I-80, the Bison Bridge will attract locals and visitors alike for the chance to experience all the river and the region have to offer.


In order to get the Bison Bridge project considered for approval by the State of Illinois, Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highways Administration, Chad, Mike, and the rest of the team need your support. Or better yet — your signature! 

The goal of collecting 50,000 signatures will help Chad make his case to the Department of Transportation. Having signatures and letters of support will demonstrate that there is community involvement and support for the proposal to repurpose the I-80 bridge.

Securing a designation would create a public space on the Mississippi River for visitors to enjoy for generations.

ADD your name in support HERE 

Learn more and share your support at bisonbridge.org.


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Mason City, Iowa is home to the only remaining hotel in the world designed by world-famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Completed in 1910 and restored in 2011, The Historic Park Inn continues to welcome guests from around the world to experience this truly, one-of-a-kind stay.

Three hours northwest of Antique Archaeology LeClaire rests this historic hotel and next door bank. 100 years ago, this midwest town of fewer than 27K, brought one of the greatest architects of all time to break ground here and show the world that they had a vision for more.  

Today, this one-of-a-kind experience was so memorable for Mike Wolfe when he passed through town, that he wanted to invite you to do the same. Here’s the story.

Why Mason City

What contributed to Mason City’s good fortune at the turn of the century was a big boom in the farming market, cement plants, and brick and tile factories. Not to mention, the community was also thriving off of four additional rail lines newly running through town via St. Paul, Chicago, and Milwaukee Railroads. By expanding these tracks westward, Mason City was suddenly not just seen as a central hub for transporting — but also a desirable place to settle down and build a home.


In fact, between 1870 and 1890, the city’s population doubled bringing with it a need to create homes for citizens, their families, and an established downtown district. The era that quickly followed between 1910 and 1920 is often considered the “Golden Age of Building Construction”. This brings us to Frank Lloyd Wright’s arrival at Mason City.

The Wright Way 

Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect who designed more than 1,000 structures over a period of 70 years. His approach towards organic architecture helped challenge the world’s perception about what a home could really be by incorporating a harmonious balance of the arts and crafts movement and nature into his work. (You may have heard of Falling Water just outside Pittsburgh that is partly built over a waterfall.) 

Wright believed that a structure should reflect the climate, landforms, and lifestyle of the region. His attention to detail, hand-crafted design, and use of natural materials helped him create spaces to honor the native landscape of the project. Wright was also a fan of creating open, flowing spaces while directing your eye towards a central focal point using natural materials like wood, stone, brick, and terra cotta. 

In 1908, Wright received the commission as the architect of The Historic Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank after receiving praise from Mason City developers for his work on an incredible stone structure he had built in Wisconsin using Prairie School style. This style emphasizes and celebrates horizontal lines rather than vertical.

The layout of Prairie School-style structures often stretched and spread across an entire lot, have flat or low hipped roofs featuring overhanging eaves made of brick, wood, and/or stone.

Today, The Historic Park Inn Hotel is the last standing example of five hotels Wright built.

Later in 1912, Wright’s architectural influence would also lead to a new residential development in Mason City called Rock Crest-Rock Glen. Today the area is a National Historic District and recognized as the largest grouping of Praire-style homes in The United States.

Walk Inside To Take A Journey Back In Time

After two years of construction, the Park Inn was ready to welcome guests. The hotel was ahead of its time when it first opened in 1910. It was revered for having luxuries that would have been rare for many to experience during that time, such as sinks with hot and cold running water, mahogany furniture, and brass beds.

One reporter described their first impression of the hotel as having a “bungalow effect”. Stating that the ventilated doors, quiet broad lines, harmonious proportions, and stained glass made them feel like they were living in a Craftsman home.

 In 1914, The Park Inn Hotel became the prototype for the famous Imperial Hotel he built in Tokyo, which took six years to complete.

The Park Inn had a central lobby, dining room, kitchen, bakery, and pantry on the first floor, and guest rooms on the second and third. The law offices occupied the building’s second floor and featured a waiting room and lobby.

Today 27 rooms are available to guests, and many of the former amenities are still enjoyed by guests today. A popular activity at the hotel is playing pool on the 100-year-old billiard tables or enjoying cocktails at the hotel bar.

Don’t Forget To Visit The City National Bank

There’s one more section of this historic building that you need to experience — The City National Bank. It’s the earliest multipurpose structure of the 20th century in Mason City and also opened in 1910 along with the hotel. 

Wright documented that all of the materials and techniques used were honest and authentic — no shortcuts, veneers, fake columns, or anything artificial just for effect. In hopes of bringing some colorful life to the muted downtown scene, Wright made a last-minute addition of brightly colored Grueby tiles at the top of the bank.

The design of the bank imparted a feeling of stability and security. It featured offices, a cashier’s room, centrally located vaults, and storage. The three skylights in the boardroom have remained in place for over 100 years.

If you’re on the street looking at the colorful second-story windows, Wright plays a deceptive trick on the viewer. By adding high buff brick walls and large horizontal clerestory windows it appeared as if there was a second floor — however, the true intention was to bring natural light into the bank and create a sixteen-foot high ceiling.

Why The Historic Park Inn Matters

In 1996, the Park Inn, a place that was once so cherished, was fighting for its life. After 60 years of severe deterioration, even after being named one of Iowa’s “10 Most Endangered Properties” it still couldn’t’ seem to escape its wrecking ball fate without some true grit, passion, and much-needed funding.  

That’s when the folks of Wright On The Park, a non-profit of local citizens made it their mission to preserve, restore and maintain the hotel.

In 2011, one hundred and one years after its original opening, The Historic Park Inn Hotel once again became a thriving business and support for Mason City tourism due to the successful community campaign of Wright on the Park.


They got to work replacing the cracked terra cotta, broken bricks and cleaning the years of dirt off those once brightly colored Grubey titles. The exterior was restored to the original design, and its interior was rehabilitated, allowing it to keep its title as the last standing hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright’s role in architectural history and passion for Mason City’s bright future is a source of great pride not just for the local community, but for Iowa and the world.

The passion that the Mason City community has for protecting and preserving its legacy and history is one that we admire. We hope someone who is reading this is inspired to start their own preservation project in their town because when we allow a place like The Historic Park Inn and City National Bank to live on as tangible pieces of our past, we can make sure they have a place in our future.


For information on tours visit Wright On The Park

Booking details check HERE

Photos courtesy of Wright On The Park

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After an endless search for a quality mountain bike left him unsatisfied with what he could buy off the shelf, Adam Sklar picked up the torch and started building his own in Bozeman, Montana.


You’re used to seeing Mike Wolfe searching for history inside barns on American Pickers, but would you believe before the show, he used to be on a mountain bike racing team? It’s true! In the early 90s, Mike used to compete in races tearing up terrain across Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois.

When it comes to two wheels, Mike has always believed that in our youth, a bike is our first taste of freedom.

“On a mountain bike, you can blaze your own trail, you can go anywhere you want to, unlike a road bike which limits you to a strip of asphalt,” explains Mike. “Mountain bikes have the ability to steer you off well-worn routes allowing you to call the shots for where you ride next.”

So what about a 28-year-old mountain bike builder named Adam Sklar caught Mike’s attention?

LEFT: Mike Wolfe outside his first bike shop in Eldridge, Iowa RIGHT: Adam Sklar outside his bike shop in Bozeman, Montana

“When I discovered Adam’s business, Sklar Bikes, on Instagram, I was intrigued because I was around the same age when I opened my first bike shop, Eldridge Bike Shop, in Eldridge, Iowa. To see such a young, self-taught, guy enthusiastic about not only riding mountain bikes but also curious about the detailed process of building custom-engineered bikes himself, gave me hope for the next generation of cyclists.”

Just like Mike, Adam has logged a lot of miles behind a pair of handlebars. Let’s show you what separates a Sklar mountain bike from the one currently stored in your garage. 


Adam learned how to ride as a young kid growing up in Colorado. His youth was spent hitting trails with friends and racing competitively. It wasn’t until he was a student at Montana State studying to be an engineer when his friends told him he should try to build a bike.

Adam sends a happy customer out to test ride their new mountain bike

“I was always interested in learning the process, but it wasn’t until I attempted to build my first frame that I realized online interest forums and YouTube videos could only carry me so far — I needed a mentor. During my time at MSU, I met a guy on campus who ran a bike shop since the 80s. I started learning from him and soon after rented a corner of his shop while I figured out by business plan for Sklar Bikes.”

He found the quality of mountain bikes available on the market today to be very cookie cutter and the materials too cheap.

“Like a good pair of shoes, a mountain bike needs to match your particular riding level and frame,” explains Adam. “After some trial and error, and being a mountain biker myself for more than a decade, I believe that my designs not only extend the life of the bikes I build but also provide support for a better ride.”

Adam’s mountain bikes to specifically designed for trails like this

Adam uses a healthy mix of traditional and modern methods when building — like embracing 3D printing to create custom parts such as chainstay yokes and dropouts, while also using TIG welding to cut and assemble steel/titanium frames.

A detailed look at Sklar wheels and frames

“Not only are the materials I use miles away from what you’re buying at the store, but I also factor in rider weight and dimensions,” says Adam. “Using custom-fit geometry I am able to ensure that all gears and parts flex correctly with every gravel patch and ramp you encounter on your ride.”

In 2017, Adam won ” Best Mountain Bike” at the North American Hand-Made Bike Show

Adam was just 20-years-old when he first opened his business. Now at 28, his mountain bikes are enjoyed by enthusiasts and professionals alike.

Completed Sklar mountain bike build

“I didn’t know anything about business starting out, but I had a drive and passion. I will say that the bike building community is kind, creative, and supportive. After all, we’re all here to make sure everyone has the chance to enjoy a bike — which is just a big toy for adults to reconnect to their youth, right?”

To this day, problem-solving is still Adam’s favorite part of the bike-building process.

LEFT: Adam in his workshop with a customer RIGHT: Adam burning the midnight oil on an order

“What I enjoy the most is getting on the first initial call with a customer and hearing their story. Some of them are looking for a bike that can win them competitions and some are guys who just retired and are looking for a way to stay in shape. By working so closely with my customers, not only does the learning never stop, it has me constantly evolving my process.”

A sunrise ride on Sklar bikes

Like anything custom-made, the benefit is that the builder uses their specific design philosophy with only your needs in mind. You’ll also own the only version of that bike ever made! The other benefit is that you’re supporting a small business and a maker’s livelihood.

“I enjoy building long-term relationships with my customers creating the bike that leads them down new and exciting trails wherever they choose to ride,” says Adam.

If you’re interested in having Adam create a custom mountain bike for you, reach out to him on Instagram, Facebook, or on his website.

And yes — Sklar Bikes are able to ship internationally!

All photos courtesy of Adam Sklar



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Treasure Troves In Rural Communities


Article by Paul Stanley

Photography by Josh Vaughn

Originally published in Brentwood Lifestyle in March 2021

Many boys develop a fascination with bicycles, motorcycles or comic books growing up. Only a handful generate income from their hobby. Very few keep the most prized picks in their own climate-controlled garage. Then there’s Mike Wolfe.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Mike’s personality showcases the characteristics of his upbringing. He’s friendly, talkative, and expresses a child-like excitement when asked about any item in his extensive collection. Watching him bounce around his garage, pointing out his favorite finds and telling their stories shows his passion for what he does is still very much alive after all these years.

Before Mike found fame on his hit TV reality show, American Pickers, he visualized a show featuring him rummaging through folk’s attics, barns, and garages, and buying his favorite finds. He pitched the show’s concept for five years, getting rejected by several production companies until the History Channel found his idea intriguing. 

Although the network expressed excitement over the project, neither their executives nor Mike had a grasp of what the show’s format would look like.

“I’ve pitched many show concepts through the years,” Mike told us over a plate of fried chicken at Puckett’s in downtown Columbia, TN. “You’re not going to sell a show today without a well-developed format. It’s just not going to happen. We created what I refer to as ‘artifactual, transactional television.’ The change came when we introduced a transaction to the show.”

Before filming even began, Mike became the executive producer, which has allowed him to shape the show into exactly what he wants it to be. As “American Pickers” begins its 11th year, no one can argue with the show’s success. The latest ratings have the broadcast as one of the most popular cable network reality shows. Besides a handful of cable news programs, few reality shows have American Pickers’ longevity. One reason is the show’s loyal fan base, and their love for the stories behind the unique items from the past.

Mike’s finds from the show can be found at his two Antique Archaeology shops in LeClaire, IA and Nashville, TN.

The Iowa location is in a two-story fabrication shop and is home base of “American Pickers. The Nashville store located in the Historic Marathon Motorworks building showcases Mike’s antiques from floor to ceiling and unique home decor that will certainly be a conversation piece for years to come.

Small Town Preservation

Just like his early instinct in capturing a key production role for his show, Mike’s decision to relocate to the South several years ago has proved positive for him. 

While exploring the communities in rural Tennessee, Mike fell in love with the small town of Columbia just south of Nashville. Driven by his passion for small town preservation, he found several historic buildings there he wanted to revive. One of the first was a building just off the town square that originally housed the local Chevrolet dealership and was built in 1947. Once the home of many of the local car dealerships, Mike is trying to restore this street to its former glory and designate it as Historic Columbia Motor Alley.

Mike also feels that creating inviting places for visitors to come stay in downtown Columbia’s heart will benefit the community. After purchasing a beautiful pre-1860s building right on the square, Mike kept the bike shop downstairs open and renovated the loft upstairs. Inspired by his decades of driving on two lanes, he named this vacation rental loft the Two Lanes Guesthouse

The loft’s decor highlights furnishings acquired through Mike’s travels, including antique wooden bikes hung from the ceiling, vintage guitars, and a 1951 Vespa sitting in front of a massive antique circus poster ready to sit on for taking photos to share. The guesthouse also represents the first time that his fans have been able to see the way Mike envisions the pieces he finds in the dirt as unique home decor. While decorators have been purchasing from him for years, you can now see his vision for what some people see as rusty junk presented in style in his loft vacation rental.

Constructed in 1857, the one-bedroom loft with 13 foot ceilings, original wood floors, and exposed brick also offers a direct view of the town’s square and historic courthouse through the full length wall of windows. Travelers can book their stay on the loft’s website or Airbnb. 

“The main reason I renovated the guesthouse is to set an example of what can happen when we invest in heritage tourism,” says Mike while giving our group a tour of the charming unit. “It’s important to have stylish, quaint, places to stay in growing communities. Once people start living and staying in downtown areas, the activity level and nightlife will increase and more businesses will benefit.”

Nashville’s Big Back Yard

The COVID-19 pandemic obviously altered the filming and production schedule for “American Pickers”. However, the break allowed Mike to focus on some of his other new ideas. One of his recent projects is called Nashville’s Big Back Yard

Nashville’s Big Back Yard is as much an economic and tourism development project as it is an initiative. The project focuses on rural counties and small towns with populations of 5,000 or less along the historic Natchez Trace Parkway between the music icons and creative hubs of Nashville, TN and Muscle Shoals, AL.

Mike joined forces with Aubrey Preston for this project, a Middle Tennessee philanthropist that had the vision to protect rural areas like Leiper’s Fork by ensuring their historic preservation remained intact.

“While COVID has dealt a devastating blow to our nation’s public health and economy, it also has led people and communities to think about who we are and what we do,” notes Aubrey. “The Land is calling people back, and Nashville’s Big Back Yard has an abundance of land, water and world-class music. We’re inviting folks to come and play in our big back yard.”

Despite the pandemic disrupting most people’s lives, Mike believes if there is a silver lining, it’s how people are evaluating their lifestyle and prioritizing what’s important.

“I think a result of the current events, is that people are reflecting on what they want their lives to look like over the next 20 years; how they want to raise their kids and how they can protect themselves moving forward. People are remembering how they grew up, they are longing for community, more space and self sufficiency. I think the answer is Main Street and rural America.”

Multiple stakeholders are aligned to move Nashville’s Big Back Yard initiative forward. The rural counties under the project’s umbrella have the infrastructure in place to support the quality of life many people appreciate, as well as the natural wonder and creativity they desire. 

This incredible watershed region has an abundance of outdoor activities such as waterfalls, epic fishing, and unique historical landmarks. Music is the backbone of the culture here, and with the creative resources available in the nearby cities, the sounds that have been created in this region can be heard worldwide.

There has definitely been a shift in the way people do business and live their lives. The area between Nashville and Muscle Shoals is only one of the marvelous rural areas around the country, and Mike and Aubrey hope other areas will follow their vision by showing people all that small towns and rural life have to offer.

It’s evident Mike Wolfe is an idea machine, a creator, and has an overwhelming desire to improve small towns and rural communities. He still has many more miles to travel, so keep up with him and projects by following him on his social media platforms, visiting his website, and watching upcoming episodes of American Pickers.


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Start making your spring and summer vacation plans now in Nashville’s Big Back Yard! 

Anchored by two world-famous music cities: Nashville to the north and Muscle Shoals, Alabama to the south, Nashville’s Big Back Yard covers 12 unique towns (with populations under 5K) to visit — each infused with music, history, art, local makers, and adventures to be experienced. (They might even provoke a happy memory of your own hometown!)  

With there still being a need to remain socially distant, there are plenty of ways to get out and explore safely. Let’s take a detour from the Broadway bustle as we show you what experiences are waiting for you in the wide-open space of Nashville’s Big Back Yard!


Go Camping Along The Clear Waters of The Piney River

Centerville, TN

The Piney River is a 23.7-mile-long tributary of the Duck River in Middle Tennessee that is enjoyed year-round by locals. Located on the banks of this river is a family-friendly RV campground just 15 miles from Centerville, TN, and only 50 miles from downtown Nashville, TN.

Piney River Resort is a vacation spot itself with 46 riverfront RV sites with pavilions, tiny home rentals, community bonfire areas, and individual fire pits. Here you’ll have immediate access to the Piney River to kayak, fish, or just lounge in the sun! 

Should you find yourself getting an itch to explore the surrounding area, you’ll find the Johnny Cash Farm and Museum a few miles away. Within thirty minutes of this resort, you can visit  Grinder’s Switch Winery for a relaxed afternoon or choose a little more adventure along the hiking trails at Montgomery Bell State Park, and nearby Bowie Nature Park.

Learn more about Centerville HERE


See The Only Known Double-Span Natural Bridge In The World

Waynesboro, TN

If being outdoors is your game, grab your gear and head here! Located on the Green River, Waynesboro has long been a magnet for outdoorsy folks. With abundant kayaking, hiking, and wildlife just outside the few blocks that make up the city limits, it’s a no-brainer for hunters, hikers, paddlers, and nature lovers.

BONUS: Waynesboro is just a stone’s throw away from the Tennessee and Buffalo Rivers for even more opportunities to float through the natural beauty of Nashville’s Big Back Yard!

This town of less than 2,500 is a mecca for visitors who come from all over the world looking for a re-set at the Tennessee Fitness Spa — a famous wooded wellness center. But the property is more than a spa, it’s also home to the only known double-span natural bridge formation in the world! This bridge was used by outlaws like Jesse James to hide from lawmen, and the Pulpit Rock ledge is where Davy Crockett himself spoke to folks gathering below!

Learn more about Waynesboro



Dive Into This Artsy River Town

Clifton, Tennessee

It’s hard not to fall for a classic river town like Clifton, Tennessee. With beautifully preserved historic buildings right on the water and gorgeous sunsets, this artsy small town is one-of-a-kind.

The emerging arts district has a local theater, fine arts, music, literature, and artisan crafts fueling the town’s culture. Make sure you tour the historic home of T.S. Stribling, the first Tennessean to win a Pulitzer Prize in literature for his 1933 novel, The Store.

While Clifton has plenty of outdoor activities off the water, you’re going to want to get yourself a boat as soon as you grab your first drink at the Clifton Marina!

Learn more about Clifton


Get Acquainted With The Largest Existing Land Animal

Hohenwald, TN

We bet you didn’t know that there are elephants in the south! Hohenwald is home to a 2,700-acre Elephant Sanctuary recognized as the largest natural-habitat refuge for captive Asian and African elephants in North America.

It’s currently home to 10 elephants retired from zoos and circuses — many of whom suffer long-term health and behavioral issues common to elephants that have spent their lives in captivity. The sanctuary provides them with individualized care, the companionship of a herd, and the opportunity to live out their lives in a safe haven dedicated to their well-being.

While the elephant’s habitat is closed to the public, the Elephant Discovery Center offers hands-on, self-guided exhibits and educational programming that explores the many ways elephants shape our world. Make an appointment for a tour and check them out!

Learn more about Hohenwald

Listen for more about the Elephant Sanctuary from NPR HERE

The Hit Recording Capital of the World

The Shoals, Alabama

In 1969, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (aka the Swampers) founded Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. 

Since then, many music legends have recorded gold and platinum records and hundreds of hit songs here such as Cher, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and The Rolling Stones, just to name a few. The “music mojo” here is still very much alive and many popular artists still travel to record at this sacred studio today. Make sure when you’re in town, you take a tour of “The Hit Recording Capital of the World.”

Life in the Shoals is “Southern Living at its Best,” with distinctive small-city experiences, quaint boutiques, award-winning restaurants, and 10 historic districts. Muscle Shoals is a family-friendly community full of personality and opportunity.

Learn more about The Shoals 


Visit A House Built By Frank Lloyd Wright

Florence, AL

During the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright, the greatest American architect of all time, built structures of beauty unmatched in America before or since. The Rosenbaum House in Florence, AL is one of the purest examples of his Usonian-style prototype.

During his seventy years as an architect, Wright would become famous across the world. His Prairie designs were the beginning of truly American architecture based on needs and function, rather than on old European traditions. Wright preferred site-specific construction where buildings blended into the landscape. 

It was with his Prairie homes that Wright began using materials limited to those found in the local area, whether it be brick if there was clay, stone if there was an abundance of rocks nearby, or wood – natural not painted from nearby trees.  

These elements became one definition of his new concept, “Organic Architecture.” To Wright, architecture was not just about the buildings but included the furnishings and other elements that would help those within live peaceful harmonious lives. Come explore Florence so you can see this icon for yourself!

Learn more about Florence HERE

Listen for more about Florence, AL from NPR HERE


What town is calling your name on our Big Back Yard map? 

Dive in and explore even MORE adventures with Nashville’s Big Back Yard on Instagram and Facebook.


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Nashville’s Big Back Yard, an economic and tourism initiative focused on a natural watershed region wending through the Natchez Trace National Parkway, features 12 rural communities. Leiper’s Fork is the northern anchor, not too far from Nashville. The Big Back Yard journey traverses Tennessee’s southwest quarter down into Alabama’s legendary Shoals region—the mother ship of American music.

The featured rural communities’ common thread is the historic architecture and a timeless, charming small-town atmosphere, some with a river running through it.

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer for an exploration of Nashville’s Big Back Yard with Aubrey Preston, the visionary behind the program. Preston, a resident of Leiper’s Fork, realized there are upside economic and cultural opportunities in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic for refugees from urban centers across America, seeking a rural alternative to urban life.

Next up is a visit with Mike Wolfe, host of History Channel’s ‘American Pickers’ tv series, at his home in Leiper’s Fork. Wolfe takes us on a journey across America and close to home, providing a contextual lens for Nashville’s Big Back Yard’s various initiatives.

We also speak to Liz McLaurin, president of the Land Trust for Tennessee in West Nashville. The Land Trust is a true greater-good engine of engagement for those who want to become involved with Nashville’s Big Back Yard’s Land Trust preservation initiatives.

You are invited to subscribe to the Lowell Thomas Award-winning podcast travel show,  Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, featured on the NPR Podcast Directory,  Apple Podcast, iHeartradio, the NPR One App & Stitcher.com. Twitter: TomCWilmer. Instagram: Thomas.Wilmer. Underwriting support provided by Honolulu based, Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative.


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