Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)

September 24, 2000
Section: City & Region
Edition: Final
Page: C1

Don Edwards, Herald-Leader Columnist
“The very form of our town came from the creek.”
–Van Meter Pettit

We’ve driven over it and past it thousands of times, but many of us don’t notice that the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek is there.
It’s not that easy to find the middle fork of the Elkhorn. From the east, it runs under downtown Lexington through a brick-vaulted waterway, then comes up near the huge parking lot behind Rupp Arena.
If you drive to the west end of the lot, there’s a double line of trees on the south.
You have to stop and get out of the car, walk over and look through the yellowing leaves to see sunlight bouncing off the quiet water.
It’s like an oasis in a desert of asphalt — an anomaly, a geographical antique left from pioneer days.
Yesterday, as part of ideaFestival, a couple of dozen people sat in the first-floor theater of the Lexington Public Library and listened to architect Van Meter Pettit, 33, talk about his favorite idea:
“Town Branch Trail.”
The idea is to turn Lexington’s oldest, polluted waterway into a new kind of landscape feature, a trail for walking, running and biking that runs alongside the creek past 19th-century retaining walls; 200-year-old houses; and buildings that once housed horse stables and woolen mills.
“It would connect parts of the city like a necklace,” Pettit said, “linking downtown to McConnell Springs Park and Masterson Station Park.”
When you see downtown “only from the perspective of four-foot sidewalks and whizzing cars, you feel crowded,” he said, “but if you could get on a trail system that eventually went 20 miles, it wouldn’t seem crowded.”
Pettit took the idea to Urban County Council member Sandy Shafer. Now Town Branch Trail is a project of the Friends of the Parks of Fayette County Inc., a non-profit citizens’ group.
The Town Branch area, Pettit said, is one that was once important to the city, but it was long ago abandoned in favor of business and residential growth.
Now it’s an area of poor neighborhoods and industrial expanse. “We wouldn’t do that nowadays: put kids, heavy machinery and industry on top of each other,” he said.
“But this is a way to bail out poor neighborhoods, give them a new life.”
Ultimately, the pollution of Town Branch is a situation that’s going to have to be cleaned up anyway, he said, so why not sooner than later?
He envisioned replanting native plants along the creek corridor, and he reminded his listeners that park space is not just for walkers, joggers, bicycle riders and student tours: “The people who work in the area near McConnell Springs Park go there to eat lunch. It’s a resource for everybody.”
I listened to Pettit’s presentation. I liked the idea, and I wondered if it would become a reality some time in the 21st century.
If you’re interested in helping with, donating to or merely learning more about Town Branch Trail, you can reach Pettit at
Pettit’s father, H. Foster Pettit, a former Lexington mayor, was in the theater listening to his son’s presentation.
Maybe a new generation will change a very old Town Branch for the better.
Don Edwards can be reached at (859) 231-3211, (800) 950-6397 or