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Signs of Civic Life: Trail Work, Arts Meeting Speak Well of Public Involvement

Lexington Herald-Leader Publication

Section: Commentary
Page: A8
Author: Editorial Board

A foot trail and footlights hold different sorts of appeal. But two volunteer movements: one working to build a creek-side trail along Town Branch, the other giving voice to Lexington’s artists — have some connections worth noting.

Both are signs of vitality in Lexington’s civic life.

Both are examples of visionary thinking by ordinary citizens.

And both have the potential to enhance the quality of life in our city and region for years to come.

Although both also are funded with a sprinkling of grant money, the energy and imaginations of their unpaid backers are what’s propelling them.

On a recent Friday night, about 40 friends of Town Branch Trail gathered at McConnell Springs for an annual meeting.

Their idea — to restore the badly polluted creek to a central role in Lexington’s life — will take years, even decades, of hard work to accomplish.

But the effort is making headway. Town Branch Trail Inc. has been incorporated as a non-profit organization and has a spot on the Internet at

Thanks to developer Dennis Anderson and a $100,000 grant from the state, the first link, beginning at the trail’s Masterson Station Park terminus, is in the works. It will provide 24 acres of interconnected parkland, greenways, and hiking and biking trails.

Water quality also will get a boost in the near future when an old city-owned dump is capped and stops leeching into the creek.

Thanks are due to the small band of talented volunteers and city planners and engineers who are pushing this project, which deserves additional support from local, state and federal governments.

Someday Town Branch Trail could be the premier link in a citywide network of paths and greenways, tying Lexington’s past to its future and making the city a more desirable place to live and work.

Also worthy of support is a Dec. 8 town meeting put together by a group of Lexington artists.

The organizers are seeking a broad discussion by artists and patrons. They want to talk about how the city can better serve the arts. They also want to talk about how the arts can better serve the city, especially by creating a cultural climate attractive to new-economyentrepreneurs.

“Envisioning the Future: a Town Meeting for the Arts in the Bluegrass” will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Carnegie Center for the Literacy and Learning, 251 West Second Street.

The public is invited. It’s a great chance to help shape the future of Lexington from the grass roots up.

These archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from MediaStream Inc., a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.

The Disappearance of Town Branch

The Disappearance of Town Branch

by Zina Merkin, November 2001

Many mid-western cities are laid out on a grid oriented to the four principal directions. Lexington’s grid, and its designations of North Limestone and East Main Street are curiously askew from those compass directions. The city originally was oriented along the banks of the Middle Fork of the Elkhorn, also known as Town Fork or Town Branch. But this stream along which the town initially was laid out is now nowhere to be seen. This paper sets out to track the vanishing of Town Branch, the reasons for its disappearance, and its influence on the development of the city of Lexington, linking this particular history with issues in the settlement and development of the United States in general.

While the stream in the earliest years may have been a pretty little creek, it quickly took on an urban character. Water supply was derived from springs, and later, wells, while the creek supported early industry. Tracking the fortunes of Town Branch offers an interesting window on the development of various kinds of urban infrastructure, and a reflection of Lexington’s growth, its changing economic base, and local effects of landscape changes occurring on a national level.

Click this link to open the “The Disappearance of Town Branch” in PDF format (100 kilobytes).

The Town Branch Environment: An Initial Evaluation

In 2001, the Environmental Quality Committee of Town Branch Trail collected information about the condition of the environment of Town Branch. Our findings and conclusions are presented in an 18-page illustrated report: “The Town Branch Environment: An Initial Evaluation.” Among the report’s recommendations are trash cleanup, extensive streamside zones of native trees and other plants, public education, partnerships with other environmental organizations, and technical consultations on stream morphology and water quality issues.

Click this link to open the “The Town Branch Environment” in PDF format (2.4 megabytes).

We are a non-profit!

We are a non-profit!

Town Branch Trail, Inc., a new non-profit organization, has been granted tax-exempt status by the IRS under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. Current officers of Town Branch Trail, Inc. are Van Meter Pettit, President, and Zina Merkin, Vice President. Members of the Board of Directors are Phil Holoubek, Yvette Hurt, Boyd Shearer and Krista Schneider.

Town Branch Trail, Inc. is a spin-off from Friends of the Parks of Fayette County, Inc. Town Branch Trail’s mission is to assist, organize and promote development of a proposed system of recreational trails and greenspace along or connecting to the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek. Town Branch Trail is envisioned to become a major component of the city/county greenway system, and will link historical and recreational resources from downtown and the western side of the city and county, for the benefit of local residents and visitors alike. The organization is actively researching, planning and promoting this project, and welcomes all citizen involvement and participation. Contact Zina Merkin or Van Meter Pettit for more information.

A New Year’s Resolution: Town Branch resurrect our stream

Lexington Herald-Leader Publication


Published: Sunday, December 24, 2000
Section: Opinions and Ideas
Page: H1
Author: Editorial Board

This time last year we showcased water pollution in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky and said Kentucky should clean it up.

Our suggested resolution this year is to atone for the Bluegrass’s dirty little secret: Town Branch.

The stream that literally shaped Lexington is classified as too nasty to support aquatic life.

The pollution is the byproduct of almost everything that has ever gone on in or near downtown: industry; runoff from vehicles parked on acres of asphalt or abandoned in junkyards; a leaking city dump that predates landfill standards; and, perhaps, forgotten straight-pipes discharging raw sewage.

As unappealing as all this is, what most stands out about Town Branch is not its pollution, but its potential.

A ribbon of water and earth, Town Branch rises from its man-made confinement just west of Rupp Arena and ripples between remarkably preserved, 150-year-old, dry-laid stone walls. The stream meanders past interesting examples of industrial architecture, including a distillery that begs to be reincarnated through adaptive reuse, and the ruin of an 1820s wool mill that was once Lexington’s jail.

Beyond New Circle Road, the stream traverses open country, coming close enough to Masterson Station to make the city park a natural terminus.

The stream’s potential has inspired a group to begin working to create the Town Branch Trail. Though this visionary project can’t be accomplished quickly or cheaply, Lexington should resolve to make it happen.

The support of local, state and federal governments will be required, along with the cooperation of corporate and individual landowners.

Other places have accomplished bigger waterway restorations. These projects pay lasting dividends by making cities more attractive places to live and do business.

Described as a “linear park,” Town Branch Trail would give downtown workers and residents a natural place to walk, run and bike. Quick access to the landscape that distinguishes Lexington from other mid-size cities would be a terrific selling point.

Town Branch could become the strongest strand in a citywide web of greenways. This natural amenity would encourage residential and commercial development downtown and to the southwest of downtown all the way to South Broadway and the University of Kentucky.

The trail would tie Lexington’s historic past to a more livable future.

The city’s first permanent structure, a fort, went up in 1779 along Town Branch near a canebrake that became the corner of Main and Mill streets.

The creek front was called the Town Commons until 1790, when it was renamed Water Street. In 1793, horse racing on Water Street was confined to the lower end and only for the purpose of showing studs.

As the city grew, flooding became a nuisance. Town Branch, which is born south of Winchester Road near East Third Street, was routed underground through downtown and all but forgotten — until now.

Restoring Town Branch to a central role in the life of Lexington would be a precious gift to future generations.

These archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from MediaStream Inc., a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.